Monday, September 30, 2013

Absent Tea Party Surrender Government Headed for Shutdown

Judging from the coverage this morning, it looks like Senate majority leader Harry Reid is not going to buckle in the showdown with the Tea-Party-led House Republicans. Good. This needed to have happened at the end of last year following Obama's landslide election win and the GOP's pathetic showing in November.

There are still scenes left to play out in this drama as it unfolds today in D.C. Absent a bargain of some sort the government will shut down tomorrow. Here -- this is from Jeremy Peters and Jonathan Weisman's story this morning, "Senate Action on Health Law Moves to Brink of Shutdown" -- is what we can expect today:
Republican lawmakers said on Sunday that the House leadership had one more card to play, but that it was extremely delicate. They can tell Mr. Reid he must accept a face-saving measure, like the repeal of the tax on medical devices, which many Democrats support, or they will send back a new amendment that would force members of Congress and their staffs, and the White House staff, to buy their medical insurance on the new health law’s insurance exchanges, without any subsidies from the government to offset the cost. 
Republicans expressed certainty that for all the discomfort a shutdown would inflict on Capitol Hill, Democrats would not risk it to protect their own benefits.
If the Tea Party caucus is willing to settle for this -- a repeal of the tax on medical devices -- then there is a chance a deal could be reached. It would be unfortunate because it would maintain the GOP penchant for budgetary brinkmanship as a negotiating tactic, and it would guarantee further drama on down the line as the House Republicans continue their attempts to nibble away at Obamacare. But it's not clear that the Tea Party is willing to set its sights so low. Tea Party Republicans feel as if they have already given up a lot over the weekend by agreeing to a one-year delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act rather than its de-funding.

And on the other side of the aisle I think it has finally dawned on the Democratic leadership, and quite possibly even the conciliator-in-chief, that negotiating with the House Republicans in the face of threats to shut down the government or default on the sovereign debt is a losing proposition.

Even if a deal is struck today that avoids a government shutdown tomorrow, rest assured that an even larger conflict is coming our way in a couple of weeks with the vote to raise the debt ceiling. That's why my thinking from last week -- that a shutdown would be avoided -- has changed.

I now think that it has dawned on the Democrats that it's better to have the House GOP shutter the government in the near term, thoroughly discrediting Republicans to a broad majority of the public and thereby undercutting them going into a debt-ceiling standoff.

Barring a complete capitulation by the Tea Party -- or turnabout by Speaker Boehner to allow a clean bill without any anti-Obamacare chicanery -- the federal government is headed for a shutdown.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #18.1

Take a look at the five scans below from Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #18.1. The art is by Dale Eaglesham. Doesn't it strike you as alluringly anachronistic? It's like looking at Tarot or prayer cards of Catholic Saints:





"Puttin' People on the Moon" + Bite of Broadview 5K + Thomas Edsall's NYT Blog


Just back from a jog this morning, broken tree branches and rain puddles everywhere from yesterday's storm, I was treated to "Puttin' People on the Moon" from the Drive-By Truckers' fifth album, The Dirty South (2004).

I went out this morning in order to process some of the lactic acid in my legs from the Bite of Broadview 5K I ran Saturday morning. The Bite of Broadview is a little neighborhood festival in North Seattle. Christ the King Catholic Church serves as the hub for the event. I ran the race last year and enjoyed it. It's a fast course with a couple of hills tossed in. The vibe of the run is distinctly neighborhoody, non-big city. It's refreshing. Despite the rain and wind, I improved on my best 5K time by almost one minute.

One item of housekeeping. As it approaches certainty that there is going to be a government shutdown this week, an excellent blog to keep an eye on is the online column Thomas Edsall writes for the New York Times Opinionator. I think he captures what's going on with the two national political parties better than anyone right now. Economic inequality as the driving force of our current political system is a constant in Edsall's Opinionator pieces.

The Colt 45 Chronicle #38


Super Bowl XXIV was the zenith of the Joe Montana-era San Francisco 49ers. Montana was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time as his 49ers, bringing home the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time, steamrollered John Elway's Broncos 55-10.

Sports teams, sports leagues, sport seasons, playoffs, championships mark time like nothing else. As the last decade of the millennium began that January, it was the beginning of the end for my marriage, as it would turn out to be for Joe Montana appearing in the Super Bowl. Time is a most mysterious thing. A major preoccupation of western philosophy is whether man has the ability to know time. I definitely felt something was afoot, that some momentous shift was underway that winter. The 49ers had never looked so machine-like as they did that year. They had a slightly better record in their 1984 championship season, and that was probably a better team. But it was a joyous affair, whereas the 1989 San Francisco 49ers were all corporately-perfected business.

The next season the 49ers would equal their 14-2 regular season record of 1989. Montana was reaching a level of control and mastery at quarterback that is hard for us to understand today -- like Drew Brees, but mentally stronger; like Tom Brady, but more able to create opportunities for victory; like Aaron Rodgers, but more of a leader. If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out the 1990 NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the 49ers. Before Montana is knocked out of the game by a vicious blindside Leonard Marshall hit, he is in control -- a man at the top of the game.

That hit by Marshall would cause Montana to miss nearly two seasons with an elbow injury. When he returned, Steve Young had assumed leadership of the 49ers. Eddie DeBartolo traded Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring of 1993.

By that time I was divorced, living in Brooklyn with my new girlfriend and getting ready to move to Texas. I would listen on the kitchen radio in San Antonio as Montana made his playoff run that 1993 season with the Chiefs. But the loss the 49ers suffered to the New York Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship that brought the Montana-era to an abrupt end -- I watched the game at a friend's Manhattan basement apartment --would also spell the end of my life as I lived it up until then, a life lugubriously recorded in this "Colt 45 Chronicle." From the spring of 1990 forward I would lead a much more solitary existence. My transition to this new lifestyle and the end of the Joe Montana-era will be told in Shit Stinks, a spontaneous prose document written the summer of 1991. But for now, it's letter number 38.
Winter 1990
Mark!
I'm tardy in my correspondence. Let me explain. I believe that when I wrote you the last time I spent a small amount of space filling you in on my resignation (immediate and verbal) from the polluted Wall Street law offices of DAVIS POLK & WARDWELL. Well, as it all turns out, I was out of work for almost a month, enough time to enjoy the eerie, truly eerie, 49ers devastation of any and all playoff competition. It was so goddamn eerie and alien for me, a dyed-in-the-wool career 49er sufferer and supporter, that I would hit the bourbon and get speech-slurring drunk, being better able to deal with what was going to happen next by looking at it through flannel gauze Jack Daniels glasses. Anyway, it ended joylessly in New Orleans in the most perverse -- most lopsided -- scoring orgy in the history of the Super Bowl.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Skip Spence and Moby Grape

The story of Skip Spence and Moby Grape has it all -- a great psychedelic name, a scheming manager (Matthew Katz), drug abuse, violence, insanity, a stint in the psychiatric ward, robust creativity, and superb music. Skip and the band rose like a rocket and fell from the firmament as fast as lightning.

Spence was a founder and guitarist of Moby Grape. He had been the drummer on Jefferson Airplane's first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966), as well as a member of an early iteration of Quicksilver Messenger Service.

I was originally attracted to the band as a source for a Hippies vs. Punks post when I saw that they opened the historic Mantra-Rock Dance, the event that introduced the Hare Krishnas, a.k.a., the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to the West Coast "Flower Power" scene. The Mantra-Rock Dance was held at Chet HelmsAvalon Ballroom on Sunday night, January 29, 1967 -- the beginning of what would later be seen as the year of the Hippie; the more famous Human Be-In had taken place a couple of weeks earlier.

Star Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg, the man who coined the term "Flower Power," helped organize and MC'd the Mantra-Rock Dance in order to introduce ISKCON founder Swami Bhaktivedanta to Haight-Ashbury. Moby Grape, a band much sought after at the time by the record labels, made a big splash that night, not only kicking things off but also joining Ginsberg, Swami Bhaktivedanta, and the members of Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company in leading the ballroom audience in two hours of chanting and dancing.


When I stray from my temporal confines -- what I have designated as the years 1975 through 1979 -- of Hippies vs. Punks one of the things that I like to do is select a band from the undercard of a rock festival or important show from either Hippie or Punk era and immerse myself in its music during the work week. In this case, and towards the goal of furthering our understanding of the "San Francisco Sound," without which the Hippie does not exist, I have submerged myself over the last two weeks in the first two Moby Grape albums -- Moby Grape (1967) and Wow/Grape Jam (1968), as well as the post-acid meltdown record of founding member Alexander "Skip" Spence, Oar (1969).


The eponymous Moby Grape was released on June 6, 1967 shortly before the band performed at what would later be hyped as the blast-off event to the Hippie "Summer of Love" -- the Monterey Pop Festival. The album peaked in September at #24 on the Billboard 200 chart. It's a highly-regarded record. For instance, it outpolls QSM's Happy Trails (1969), which I consider to be much better, in the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time ranking. Christgau gives it an enthusiastic A-minus. I found Moby Grape, having listened to it repeatedly, to be more akin to the Los Angeles Whiskey a Go Go music of Buffalo Springfield (another three-guitar band) than the psychedelic ballroom sound of San Francisco bands Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company. In addition to plenty of twangy guitar and a go-go dancing backbeat, Moby Grape features a fulsome holy sententious, non-ironic male vocal style, something for the most part no longer acceptable. Now we like our male lead singers fragile, obscure, exhausted. We will accept a diffident Jesus Christ pose, but not a Charlton Hestonesque Moses.

I prefer the next Moby Grape recording, the double LP, Wow/Grape Jam. Where the first record was recorded in Los Angeles, Wow/Grape Jam was mostly recorded in New York City because producer David Rubinson wanted to be with his family. This necessitated the band moving back East to live out of hotel rooms for many months. It took its toll. If you're a West Coast boy coming to New York City for the first time to live, it will fuck you up. I can speak from experience. There's nothing to prepare you for the energy, the density, the easy availability of women and drugs, and the constant drinking. It fucked up Skip Spence. 


It was during the band's stay in New York while Wow/Grape Jam was being produced that Spence disappeared with a woman after a Moby Grape show at Fillmore East. When he reappeared he was transformed, drug crazed. The story is a famous one. Skip took a fire ax to drummer Don Stevenson's hotel room door, attempting to kill him in order to save him from himself. He held the ax to the hotel doorman's head. The police were called and Spence was taken to jail. From there he spent six months pumped full of Thorazine in the psychiatric ward of Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital.


What makes Wow/Grape Jam sound so great is that it manages to capture this intensity, this craziness -- the bigness, the energy -- of what the Hippies were wrestling with during the counterculture apex years of 1967-1968. The era of the rock 'n' roll musician as a grand artistic visionary -- an oracle, a synthesizer of the present age -- is long gone. But listen to the string and horn arrangements of Wow or the super studio jams of Grape Jam and you get a sense of the huge scale and  high confidence the Hippies were trading in.

And that's what makes Skip Spence's only solo album, Oar -- an album on which Spence plays all the instruments and was made with a three-track recorder -- stand out. It's the exact opposite. In an age of bombastic grandiosity it prefigures by more than three decades the "small ball" genre of Downer Folk that is one of the hallmarks of our current End Times.


The story, apparently apocryphal, is that once he was released from Bellevue Hospital, Spence, wearing pajamas, jumped on a motorcycle and drove non-stop to Nashville where he recorded Oar in seven days at the Columbia Records studio.


The album was released in spring of 1969. It ended up being, at that time, the lowest-selling album in the history of Columbia Records. It was removed from the Columbia catalog within a year. The Hippies, flocking to any and all rock festivals like Woodstock and Altamont and movie theaters to see Easy Rider, could not fathom the depths that Oar presented.


The easiest way to think of it is in terms of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding (1967), another album that confounded the Hippies, and, appropriately, a recording made in the same Nashville studio one year prior to Oar. In many places, such as "Cripple Creek" and "Broken Heart," Oar sounds identical to John Wesley Harding:


But it isn't Dylan's Biblical world that Spence inhabits. Oar is an irreligious, drug-damaged, Bizarro-world version of John Wesley Harding, one that accurately predicted our present constricted -- owing to our loss of free time -- sense of space (constricted to the point of miniaturization). We're working longer hours for less money. Everything has been monetized. Public parks require an admission fee. Churches stand vacant. Our commons no longer exist. It's a brutal, nihilistic world. Skip Spence captured it 44 years ago.

In 2009, Beck lovingly devoted one of his Record Club sessions to Oar. Check it out. You'll come away appreciating Skip Spence even more.

Bad Day for the Warmongers

It's a bad day for the warmongers. The United States, France and Britain were unsuccessful in the attempt to craft a Security Council resolution governing Syria's compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention that would have automatic penalties under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Any penalties for non-compliance will require a second vote of the Security Council. Michael Gordon has the story, "U.N. Deal on Syrian Arms Is Milestone After Years of Inertia."

Here is the "Text of Draft United Nations Resolution on Syrian Chemical Weapons."

This is a resounding win for Syria, for antiwar forces, for Russia. Despite protestations that an attack against Syria would be of a limited nature, it was apparent that what the West had in mind was a Yugoslavia-, Libya-like air power campaign that would drive the Baathist government from office. What would follow in its wake didn't seem to worry the warmongers. At the worst, so the warmonger reasoning goes, there would be more warfare. And this suits the warmonger just fine.

While the civil war will grind on in Syria, the collapse of a sovereign state due to aggression by the West has been avoided for the time being.

My suspicion was that by now the the warmongering foreign policy elite of the United States wanted to have military forces inserted inside Syria with no-fly/no-go zones. Not only is this off the table -- and not only is the chemical weapons canard removed as a future source of provocation -- but the fictional nature of the official opposition -- the Syrian National Coalition -- has recently been exposed. To top it all off, talks between Iran and the West seem to be progressing.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Computer Problems

Returning home last night from a buzz at my local hipster barbershop, I was greeted by a PC that refused to boot up.

I powered down and powered up numerous times before gaining access to the BIOS screen. From there I ran a system diagnostic scan and received an error message indicating that there was something wrong with my hard drive. I attempted to re-boot once again, got the BIOS screen, loaded and saved the default start-up settings and then, going to bed, I left the computer on trying to identify and fix the start-up problem.

I woke up after midnight and saw that the PC had successfully booted. I entered my password and the desktop popped up. So I went back to bed somewhat relieved.

In the morning I got out of bed and roused the sleeping computer. I entered my Windows password. Immediately the desktop appeared. But when I clicked on the Google Chrome icon at the bottom of the screen, nothing -- just the endlessly spinning little wheel of a process going nowhere.

I gave it about thirty minutes while I washed dishes in the dark. I listened to the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain (1973). Then I powered down and began the whole process from last night over again.

When I return home from work tonight, hopefully, I'll have better luck. If not, blog posts will be sparse until some point next week. Unless I decide to get an entirely new box.

It would be appropriate here to say something about how one's identity extends to one's personal computer. And in moments of difficulty with the home PC it can feel as if one is having an identity crisis. Having gone through this not too long ago with a faulty VGA cable, I know to remain calm. Nonetheless it is an inconvenience. A lot of our lives take place online now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NFL Week 3: The Poverty of Pittsburgh

Granted, only the third game of the season is complete; and granted, the team the Seahawks thrashed 45-17 this past Sunday was the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars, led by former Seattle defensive coordinator of the last four seasons Gus Bradley, it is nonetheless beginning to look like Pete Carroll has a bona fide Super Bowl contender.

The National Football League is hard to gauge this early in the year. It usually takes until the end of November to get a sense of which teams are peaking. And even then it's still a tough call. Who could have foreseen the amazing playoff run the Ravens put together last season?

One of the nice things about the lopsided Seahawks-Jaguars game is that it allowed me to unyoke myself from the television and wash a sink of dirty dishes.

The morning began with a study of the Green Bay loss at Cincinnati to the Bengals. It looks like it's going to be a long, stressful year for Aaron Rodgers. A porous defense, injuries at running back and tight end and some poor throws by the Packer quarterback portend trouble ahead.

By far the strangest spectacle from Week Three for me was the Sunday night game. I can't recall having seen such a weak Steelers team. (There was a time after Bradshaw retired and Mark Malone was QB that Pittsburgh was woeful, but that was long ago.) Pittsburgh managed to claw back into the game against the visiting Bears before Roethlisberger fumbled and Julius Peppers returned it 42 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown.

Gray Lady's Anne Barnard Interviews Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad

Anne Barnard has a decent story this morning built around her Tuesday interview in Damascus with Syria's deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad. It's worth checking out. Some of the highlights:
  • Geneva II is unlikely to happen anytime soon. So the Syrian government is talking about the possibility of staging its own peace talks with "religious and community leaders 'who have influence on the ground' with fighters."
"But Mr. Mekdad suggested the government doubted the usefulness of talking to leaders of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the exile group that the West and its Arab allies have tried to set up as the government’s opposition counterpart and the civilian leadership of the loose-knit rebel Free Syrian Army. Excluding that group would be a nonstarter for the United States and its allies.
"But Mr. Mekdad and prominent government supporters in Damascus said the coalition was increasingly irrelevant, not only lacking control over its own forces, but over foreign jihadist groups increasingly prominent on the battlefield — a view widely shared by Syrians who oppose the government."
  • Following Syria's agreement to get rid of its chemical weapons, "Mr. Mekdad said the natural next step was an international push for Israel to relinquish its arsenal of nuclear weapons, which the neighboring state has never formally acknowledged."
  • The Syrian deputy foreign minister said that the government was "100 percent sure" that the rebels were behind the August 21 Ghouta chemical weapon attack.
  • Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is consolidating its position in northern Syria and hardening its drive for a caliphate by attacking other rebel groups:
"A Syrian journalist said recent fighting between armed groups in the rebel-held north changed the calculations of Syrian and Western leaders regarding the proposed talks in Geneva.

"The journalist, who supports the government but requested anonymity to go beyond official statements, said he believed the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was trying to seize ground from other rebel groups. 
"'I don’t think Geneva is really close to us, but what is close to us is a huge problem,' he said. 'If we don’t fight it in next two, three, four weeks, this means that inside of the Middle East, near Europe’s border, there is a state auto-financed and controlled by terrorists.'
"He said he could even envision a situation in which an international coalition was formed to fight alongside the Syrian Army against the jihadists, a prospect that seemed unlikely for now as the West continues to insist Mr. Assad leave power.
"Mr. Mekdad dismissed that notion and said the government sought a “peace coalition” to end the financing of armed opposition groups by America’s allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, adding that aid to the Syrian government from its allies Russia and Iran was permissible within relations between sovereign states."
I think that there's a greater chance that the West will use the existence of an Al Qaeda enclave in northern Syria as an excuse to launch strikes against the Syrian government rather than cooperate with it. It's part of pattern that we've come to expect from the United States and its allies: foment unrest and then use that unrest as an excuse to exercise military force.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Government Shutdown?

This blog began last November in anticipation of a decisive political showdown. Obama's drubbing of Mitt Romney in the presidential election and the epic failure of the Grand Old Party to gain any seats in the House or Senate, despite the deluge of cash unleashed by the plutocrat-friendly Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, portended a route of the Tea Party in the fiscal cliff budget battle that brought 2012 to a close.

Obama won in 2012 thanks to a clear Progressive majority. These are voters who believe in the virtue of government-sponsored social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and who don't want to be inserted into any more foreign wars of choice. Of the two major party candidates, Obama offered the better choice.

But since last November things have become murkier. The Tea Party caucus, which wags the dog in the House, managed to duel Obama to draw on the fiscal cliff. Giving up a little ground on the top income tax rate, House Republicans earned their spurs back earlier this year by holding fast on the implementation of across the board 10% cuts in government spending known as sequestration.

In the meantime, Obama's political capital has drained away steadily since the election; it's to the point now where it's almost safe to call him a lame duck -- and he has more than three years left in his second term.

Obama's first mistake was during the negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff he agreed to a Social Security reduction in the form of a chained CPI, contradicting a campaign pledge. The deal he ended up arriving at with Republicans did not include any Social Security cuts, but there was a feeling among his Progressive base that Obama had squandered the tactical high ground offered by the fiscal cliff where the GOP would have been uniformly blamed and despised by voters for raising everyone's taxes in order to avoid a tax increase on the wealthiest. The Progressive base was looking for a decisive battle while the issue of social democracy vs. plutocracy was still front and center from the election campaign. Knowing the fight would have to be fought with the House Republicans eventually, the feeling was better now as we head into a new year.

Obama then lost on the sequester. He made a decision to push for gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown massacre, and he couldn't deliver on that. Then at the end of summer, Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, attempted to insert the United States in yet another war in the Middle East. Except that this time it would be on the same side as an enemy, Al Qaeda, we have been at war with since 9/11. Voters rebelled and war was avoided thanks to some fancy Russian diplomatic footwork.

That's where we are now. Obama is on the ropes. The bete noire of the Tea Party, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a., Obamacare, is set to launch on October 1, the same time a new budget has to be approved to avoid a government shutdown. Assuming that can be done, sometime at the end of October the government will reach its debt limit. The House GOP, which must vote to approve raising the debt ceiling, promises default unless Obamacare is de-funded.

Obama is weakened and the majority that elected him is dispirited. This gives the House Republicans enough wiggle room to shut down the government if that is what they really want to do. But I don't think that's what they want. This wouldn't play well with independents. What I read over the weekend, something which makes sense, is that Speaker of the House John Boehner will accept whatever comes over from the Senate and send it back with language delaying enforcement of a tax penalty on filers who can't show proof of health insurance. Then it will be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to shut down the government.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kerry's Bellicose Syria Talk Made Hollow by Budget-Obamacare Showdown

Kareem Fahim reporting from Istanbul has a story today about the poorly regarded Syrian National Coalition:
This dim view of the coalition has gained greater significance after an agreement by the United States and Russia to rid the Syrian government of its chemical weapons stocks, a deal that has renewed talk of an international conference aimed at ending the war with a political settlement. The opposition leaders complained that Mr. Assad had outmaneuvered his international adversaries to stay in power, and they feared that their coalition would be sidelined in any settlement. 
The sense that the opposition leadership was becoming even more marginal deepened last week during some of the fiercest rebel infighting of the war, when fighters linked to Al Qaeda battled other rebels in the northern Syrian town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey. 
The coalition seemed like a bystander as events highlighted the growing turmoil among the opposition fighters in areas nominally under rebel control: after two days of silence, the coalition finally released a statement on Friday condemning the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. 
Frustrated that events were spinning beyond their control, the coalition leaders tried to find other ways to assert their importance during the three-day Istanbul conference last weekend. With rare unanimity, and what appeared to be the blessing of their foreign patrons in the Persian Gulf, they elected a prime minister, Ahmad Tomeh, to lead what they say is an interim government. The opposition leaders also voted to incorporate an alliance of Kurdish parties, broadening the coalition’s support.
The goal for the West is to get an authorization out of the United Nations Security Council allowing the use of force in overseeing Syrian compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention. Reuters has a story about Assad's appearance on China's CCTV where he explains how this would provide the rebels with another opportunity to provoke a Western attack:
In the interview, Assad said gunmen could hinder the access of chemical weapons inspectors to sites where the weapons were stored and made.

He added, "We know that these terrorists are obeying the orders of other countries and these countries do drive these terrorists to commit acts that could get the Syrian government blamed for hindering this agreement."
Moon of Alabama's blog post from yesterday discusses a threat made by Secretary of State John Kerry to withdraw U.S. support for Syria's entry into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) unless Russia and China agree to a resolution under Chapter VII.

There is very little chance that Russia and China will accede to this demand. Because if they do, the result will be an eventual U.S.-led attack. Learning from its mistake at the end of August -- agreeing to a Congressional vote for the authorization of the use of military force -- the Obama administration will unilaterally interpret non-compliance with the OPCW and launch a strike against Syria. This is plain to see. So the Russians and the Chinese will not buckle.

This puts the onus on Kerry and the other warmongers to justify scrapping the chemical weapons agreement arrived at with the Russians in Geneva, something they are in no position to do given the budget-Obamacare showdown underway in the D.C. beltway. Kerry might be talking tough on Syria but he can't deliver anything. There is no way Obama is going to risk shattering his Progressive base (yet again) in the middle of what is shaping up to be a "final conflict" of sorts with the Bircher Tea Party that leads the House GOP majority.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #18

Once Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic left Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates and Sam Humphries and Luke Ross took over, the title bogged down in the usual tired, superficial superhero fare I grew up ingesting in the 1970s. Now, like then, it was Captain America at the center of the story.

Captain America has been elected President of the United States following the anti-matter bomb that destroyed the Congress and most of the executive branch. The country has split apart into various sovereign regional states. Captain America and the Ultimates are conquering the rebel states and reintegrating them into the Union.

The four scans below show Thor taking out his evil son Modi, who has been pulling the strings on the rebellion, while Captain America mops up the last bit of militia resistance outside Cheyenne, Wyoming:




The Colt 45 Chronicle #37

Today is the first day of fall. The letter below, number 37 in a collection of letters written my first two years in New York City, chronicles an autumn night 24 years ago when my cousin was mugged in Brooklyn.

My cousin and I were close. We spent a lot of time together growing up, and we were in the same class at the University of California. When my wife and I moved from the West Coast back to New York City, he followed us out in a year. This created friction between me and my wife; she didn't particularly care for my cousin.

I include Rei Momo (1989), David Byrne's first true solo album, below because at the end of the letter I mention having seen him at the Roseland Ballroom. Byrne performed songs off Rei Momo. I didn't enjoy the show. He wore tight pants and did a lot of hip shimmying and ass shaking. I didn't cotton to the whole Brazilian worldbeat vibe. Byrne, as usual, was ahead of his time; as you can hear, it is a good album:


Autumn 1989
It's a Saturday night again and I've shunned social companionship in favor of sitting down here and tapping out a missive to you.  It was either go to the East Village with Ashley and Jessica to see some kind of avant-garde performance at the opening of a new record store or go down to Antony's and smoke some dope and maybe see a movie. I don't get to spend that much time by myself anymore. So whenever I get the chance I take it. It went like this: after I finished telling Antony that I'd have to take a rain check for tonight's festivities I hung up the phone (8:09 PM) and rushed down to the deli and got myself three Coors quarts (I have a quart of malt liquor stashed in the back of the fridge just in case it goes into overtime); came back upstairs; took off my coat (it's cold tonight, low 40s); slapped on some Sonic Youth; cracked the top off of the first bottle, and started my head to thinking.
Ashley has harvested three more of her plants. We've accumulated quite a store and it's all in Tupperware containers in the hall closet. With all the shit around, and with Ashley's new sobriety standards, I've found myself turning more and more to a joint when I'm hankering for a little solace. I'm swearing off the shit though. I don't like the way it makes me feel the next day, just like a stick in the mud.
I guess you know that Colin is now a resident of New York City -- Brooklyn, to be exact. He finally found a place to live last week; it's with a couple of women in their twenties; one's black and beautiful and the other's homely and corn-fed, from Kansas, or so he tells me. I talked to him on the phone today. He said he got mugged last night. He gets off work around 2:00 AM. He has a computer job for Citibank; his shift runs from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM. He takes the R train into Brooklyn. After the train gets into Brooklyn it stops and an announcement is made to the passengers that that the train will not be going any further due to repair work on the track. Colin gets out of the train and walks up to street level. He's hungry so he finds an all-night diner and has something to eat. By the time he leaves it's 3:00 AM; he figures he'll take a little stroll and unwind a little after his meal. He starts walking up Flatbush Avenue; takes a right here; walks a few blocks; takes a left there; walks a couple of blocks and the next thing he knows he doesn't know where the fuck he is. The whole time he's telling me this over the phone I'm thinking to myself, "He doesn't know what kind of neighborhood he's in -- I know that parts of Flatbush are bad -- it's three o'clock in the fucking morning, and to make matters worse, he looks like a little sweetheart faerie -- what else does he want? Why not just carry a sign around his neck: BEAT ME! ROB ME!" When he realizes that he's lost, he starts hailing cabs. One or two pass, but they've got people in 'em. So he starts walking again. He makes a left; walks a mile or so, and then breaks right. He comes to a lit street corner and decides to wait there. He sees a cab coming from down the road and he steps out into the street to hail it, but it scoots right by him, somebody already in the backseat. He paces back and forth for a while. No cabs come. He decides to start walking again. He turns to walk down the street and sees someone walking towards him from about twenty feet off . He figures the best thing to do is to just lower his head and keep on walking. Right when he's about to pass this guy, the guy grabs him and smashes him up against a car and starts jabbing him in the ribs with something hard and sharp. The guy is Hispanic, Colin's height, and has a cloth wrapped around his face. He demands his wallet; says he's got a knife and he'll cut him if he doesn't give it up.
Colin asks him to go easy, tells him that he's scared and has a big coat on and can't get at the wallet. The guy keeps jabbing and demanding. Colin bargains, says he'll give him his cash but not his cards and billfold. The guy agrees. It's at that point that Colin gets a look at the guy's "blade." -- It's a socket wrench. He wonders if he should make a break for it. But the guy still has a hold of him and nobody's around. So he decides against it; he forks over twenty-two dollars instead. The guy is not satisfied. He rifles through the wallet but can't find anything. Colin has hold of half the billfold; he won't let go. The guy darts into the dark street night with his sharp socket wrench. Colin is left alone under the yellow shade of a street lamp.
Who else but Colin, huh? You've got to tip your cap.
Well shit, I'm doing more drinking than lettering at this point. I've got a good story lined up about a David Byrne show I went to see on Halloween with Ashley and some of her friends. I just don't have the stamina anymore. Pre-sobriety regulations I was as good as gold. I could drink and write with up to four quarts of malt liquor under my belt. Now I down two-and-a-half quarts of Coors and I'm finished.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: A Contemporary Interlude, Push the Sky Away

Tonight I am filled with -- to borrow the Hippie phrase -- "negative energy." There is a problem at work. One of the members of our clerical bargaining unit repeatedly calls in sick, day after day, week in and week out, month after month, year after year. The office manager does nothing. The rest of us pick up the slack and feel resentful. Morale deteriorates. But today a line was crossed and a decision was made to say something to the office manager. I am angry about this because I will be the one who has to do it, and it's something with which I shouldn't have to be dealing.

Last week the summer was waning but still with us. This week, autumn, 36-hours away, is waxing. 

On my walk downtown to the train station this morning I realized that the thing that unites Hippie with Punk is the desire to be heard. Their music cries, each in its own way, "Listen to me! I am special! I need to be heard!" 

What prompted me to think this was the decision to forego my saturation of Moby Grape -- which was my intended topic, following last week's ode to Quicksilver Messenger Service's first two albums, for tonight's post -- in favor of Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsPush the Sky Away. Released in February, I became enraptured with the album at the end of spring, typing brief posts here for several days in a row at the beginning of June.

Both the Hippies and the Punks intended to shock. If there is one improvement in the music of today it is the refinement of a sensibility which says, "Listen to me. Or don't listen to me. I don't care." When beard rock is transcendent it is because of this. (I've been listening to a lot of Bon Iver these days.) And no finer example of this dispassionate "take it or leave it" ethos -- though Nick Cave and Mick Harvey are certainly no beard rockers, their roots tracing back to the seminal Post-Punk band The Birthday Party -- can be found than the second single off Push the Sky Away, "Jubilee Street":


We must aspire to this detached state. The Hippie failed, and so too did the Punk. We're sitting in the swill of their failure. We have to be prepared for the end. It's coming. Nick Cave is a fine model. Note his trim frame in the video above. As we age we must remain slender:


Next week, Skip Spence's Moby Grape and the Hippie version of detachment (drug damaged) captured in his solo classic from 1969, Oar.

Warmongers Hemmed In

Next week is shaping up to be a momentous one. The United Nations General Assembly convenes and the United States House of Representatives, currently being led by the Tea Party caucus, will decide whether to shut down the government.

The news today is buzzing with the possibility of a deal between Obama and new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, over Iran's nuclear program. They will likely meet in New York City where both will be attending the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is proceeding along the same belligerent path he has trod from the beginning in relation to Syria, ignoring the unmistakable turn of events of the last two weeks since his Monday, September 9, faux pas during a London press conference opened the door for the Russian proposal for Syria to adopt the Convention on Chemical Weapons.

Michael Gordon has a good summary this morning of the effort underway, based on what Kerry says is indisputable proof of Syrian government guilt, to allow the Security Council the use of force if Syria does not comply with the agreement to get rid of its chemical weapons. To this end, Kerry is trying to isolate the Russians by getting the Chinese to join with the U.S., France and Britain in supporting Chapter VII sanctions. It's not going to happen.

The Obama Administration has its hands full: Iran, a Tea Party emboldened by its defeat of Obama's Authorization for the Use of Military Force looking to shut down the government, and, now, finding a plausible way to upend peace talks with Syria. This is from Gordon's story, "Kerry Presses Security Council to Act on Syrian Arsenal":
Mr. Kerry plans to meet next week with Mr. Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy on the Syria crisis, to discuss planning for a possible peace conference. 
No date for a conference has been set, and Russia and the United States are at odds over who should attend. Russia, for example, has insisted that Iran should participate. The United States has opposed including Iran and said the “London 11,” a group of European and Arab nations that support the Syrian opposition, should attend.
Engaged in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program makes it hard to deny them a place at the table in talks on Syria.

The Guardian had a story yesterday on Putin's take on Syria; it included this sensible question from the Russian president:
The Russian president also reiterated suspicions that the 21 August chemical attack near Damascus was carried out by rebels and not by forces loyal to Assad. 
"We talk all the time about the responsibility of Assad regime if it turns out that they did it, but nobody is asking about the responsibility of the rebels if they did it," said Putin. "We have all the reasons to believe it was a clever provocation."
The warmongers, it goes without saying, will do everything in their power to reassert the primacy of force. But with food stamps being axed by House Republicans, who at the same time are hurtling towards a collision in their quixotic effort to repeal Obamacare, the United States Government is in no position to threaten other countries.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Elites Mewl Diminished Imperial Prerogative

Al Qaeda affiliate Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of the Syrian border town of Azaz, routing the Free Syrian Army rebels. This is from a story by Ben Hubbard and Karam Shoumali, "Extremists Take Syrian Town Near Turkey Border":
The takeover also signals a new low in relations between the rebels fighting a civil war against Mr. Assad’s forces and international jihadists who have flocked to rebel-controlled areas to lay the groundwork for an Islamic state. 
For much of the 30-month-old conflict, the rebels welcomed jihadist fighters for the know-how and battlefield prowess they brought to the anti-Assad struggle. In recent months, however, jihadist groups have isolated local populations by imposing strict Islamic codes, carrying out public executions and clashing with rebel groups. 
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Wednesday, extremist fighters took dozens of rebels captive after a gunfight near a rebel base, activists said. 
Reached by telephone, a rebel commander who gave only his first name, Khattab, said that Wednesday’s violence in Azaz began when ISIS fighters stormed the town and tried to detain German doctors who were visiting a hospital.
Turkey responded by closing one of its border crossings.

Elites continue to complain about Obama's decision to go to Congress for authorization to illegally attack Syria; it is considered a significant rollback of the imperial presidency. The story, "Former Defense Secretaries Criticize Obama on Syria," by Thom Shanker and Lauren D'Avolio, about comments by former Obama SecDefs Robert Gates and Leon Panetta regarding the commander-in-chief's handling of Syrian crisis, had the following lines that caught my eye:
Although Mr. Gates said that any unilateral military action against Syria would be a mistake, he also said it was unwise for the president to have sought Congressional authorization to use force, because of the risk to presidential prestige if he was rebuffed. 
If Congress voted no, “it would weaken him,” Mr. Gates said. “It would weaken our country. It would weaken us in the eyes of our allies, as well as our adversaries around the world.”
In other words, it doesn't matter that the most favorable outcome was achieved -- a wider war was avoided, large amounts of chemical weapons will be decommissioned, and the Constitution was honored -- because there was a risk to presidential prestige. This is what qualifies as sagacity in elite circles. Clearly it is insane, the product of a shit-sniffing, addled old courtier; but it is the conventional wisdom of the Washington smart set.

Having been on the losing side of a propaganda war that has raged since Monday when the United Nations released the Sellstrom report on the August 21 Ghouta chemical attack, Russia and Syria finally got off the ropes. For instance, Assad was interviewed on the Fox Network by former presidential aspirant and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, something of a public relations coup since Kucinich still has some chops, albeit waning, among progressives and Fox caters to an audience of hard-shell conservative know-nothing types. This is the type of "unholy alliance" that blocked Obama's AUMF in Congress and has elites like Panetta and Gates mewling about the diminishment of imperial prerogative.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

**CORRECTION**C.J. Chivers Not to be Trusted

In the previous post I praised the quality of C.J. Chivers reporting for the New York Times. I'd like to retract that. After reading this morning's Moon of Alabama blog post it is apparent that Chivers frequently engages in tendentious argumentation on behalf of the West.

In the past I suppose I've been swayed by his detached voice-overs describing the technical details of battles captured on videos that have appeared on the New York Times website.

Moon of Alabama offers a counterpoint to the argument that the Syrian government is responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta based on azimuth data. This is welcome since the West has been winning the propaganda war so far this week.

Chapter VII a Stretch for the West Despite Winning Propaganda War on Ghouta CW Attack

C.J. Chivers, a reporter who does good work, has another story today, "U.N. Data on Gas Attack Points to Assad’s Top Forces," fleshing out the azimuths evidence contained in the recently released United Nations report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The angle of impact taken from rocket craters point to the Republican Guard 104th Brigade located atop Mount Qasioun. This revelation, mostly unanswered in the last 36 hours, is being countered this morning by the Syrian government. Agence France Presse reports that "Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday after the first of two days of talks in Damascus that the Syrian regime has handed Russia new materials implicating rebels in the attack that horrified the world." Ake Sellstrom's UN investigators are returning to Syria to continue inspections.

Regardless of the actual truth of who is behind the Ghouta chemical attack, the Syrian government has been losing the rhetorical war with the West since Monday. This has given renewed impetus in the Security Council to include Chapter VII sanctions in the draft resolution governing Syrian compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Here's Rick Gladstone's take in "Security Council Returns to Role in Syria Conflict":
[D]iplomats, who declined to be identified, said Russia, Syria’s most important ally, was resisting components of the draft, composed by the three Western permanent members — Britain, France and the United States — that discuss the threat of force to ensure Syrian compliance, whether to condemn the Syrian government for chemical weapons use and whether suspected users should be referred to the International Criminal Court for war crimes prosecutions. 
The discussions are unlikely to produce a quick resolution, the diplomats said, and it is unclear when a draft will be ready for a vote.
Even though Syria and their Russian ally are losing the public relations war on the Ghouta attack, they remain in a strong position vis-a-vis the West. Public opinion is overwhelming against military intervention even though a super-majority already believes the Syrian government to be responsible for the attack; that's what polls published earlier showed. The United States Government is facing the very real threat of a shutdown in the near future. In his negotiations with the House GOP there is no way Obama is going to risk losing public support by launching a unilateral strike. Russia will block any threat of force or official condemnation in the Security Council. It is likely that Sellstrom's inspection team will eventually document evidence of rebel chemical weapons use. The West will do everything it can to prevent this because once it happens any military support for the opposition will be exceedingly difficult to justify to a public bludgeoned about the horrors of using gas on the battlefield.

NFL Week 2: The Ecstasy of Grief

Once I get off the train in the morning I make my way across a skywalk and then down four flights of concrete steps and across International Boulevard to the bus stop. I climb aboard the bus at a back entry and usually sit near an older man who is always reading the sports pages of the Seattle Times. Lately he has been breakfasting on muffins and danish. Earlier in the summer he was making due with the thin gruel of Mariners box scores. Now, I can tell, he's feeling good; he's riding high in bus seat. Why? People are excited here about the Seahawks.

Though it is still very early in the season, it looks like the team is equal if not superior to last year's wild card squad. During Sunday night's demolition (the second in a row) of Super Bowl runners-up and division rival San Francisco 49ers, the off season acquisitions for the defensive line, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, played well and made critical contributions. It was the lack of a pass rush in the fourth quarter on the road that was the undoing of the Seahawks last year. 

So things are looking good and people are beginning to chomp down on the hype. A trip to the Super Bowl might be a legitimate possibility. I am wary though. The pain and suffering I experienced was immense with the playoff loss last January in Atlanta . I don't want to relive that. I was detached for the nail-biting opener in Charlotte against the snake-bitten Panthers. But that all changed at some point in the first half of Sunday night's game. My detachment disappeared. Maybe it was the game delay for the lightning storm. By the time play resumed I was completely enmeshed. And it was an extremely satisfying enmeshment. The Seahawks defense shut down the potent Kaepernick-led San Francsico offense, an offense that had steamrollered Green Bay the previous week. And the Seahawks offense got its running game going.

This is what I want to tell you: To be a Seattle fan and to see Marshawn Lynch snap off a crisp touchdown run complete with sharp cutbacks, to sit enraptured at home in front the television as The Beast swaggers slowly into the end zone, really, truly, this is as good as it gets in terms of a communal, cathartic experience. I know the National Football League is a money-grubbing soul-devouring multi-billion dollar behemoth. But underneath it all, the greatness of heroic athletes manages to shine through.

We're not asked to create anything. We're asked to maintain a preexisting order that is based on hierarchy and exploitation. It's a miserable system, an infernal machine. To know that she is free, the worker is allowed to purchase with script objects she has produced by the sweat of her own brow. Freedom also includes viewing commercially televised images. For the most part, this is what we're left with. When it's good we're transported from our horrible lives to something bigger and better, something shared.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Be Wary, Warmongers Aren't Done with Syria

With the release of the United Nations report on chemical weapons in Syria yesterday a bum's rush is underway to assign blame to the Syrian government for the August 21 chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. I see this as a way to rejuvenate the the unilateral force option that was taken off the table temporarily last week thanks to a combination of overwhelming public opposition and skilled Russian diplomacy. The Western powers will use the Sellstrom report to generate support in the Security Council for the use of force if the Syrian government is decided to be not in compliance with the Kerry-Lavrov agreement ridding the country of its chemical munitions. Then we will be right back to the situation preceding the invasion of Iraq: The United States will insist that the Syrian government is not cooperating; Russia and China will disagree; and the United States will jump the rails and launch a unilateral attack.

That's the idea at least. First work has to be done to make it universally accepted that the Syrian government launched the Ghouta attack. The UN report -- I haven't had a chance to read it yet, just skim sections online -- is said to point to the Syrian government for two reasons: 1) the rockets used require large launchers "not previously documented or reported to be in the possession of the insurgency"; and 2) the azimuth data gleaned from the rocket impact craters are said to point back to a Syrian military facility. This is from a Rick Gladstone and C.J. Chivers story, "Forensic Details in U.N. Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas," that appears in the New York Times today:
The weapons inspectors, who visited Ghouta and left the country with large amounts of evidence on Aug. 31, said, “In particular, the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used.” 
But the report’s annexes, detailing what the authors found, were what caught the attention of nonproliferation experts. 
In two chilling pieces of information, the inspectors said that the remnants of a warhead they had found showed its capacity of sarin to be about 56 liters — far higher than initially thought. They also said that falling temperatures at the time of the attack ensured that the poison gas, heavier than air, would hug the ground, penetrating lower levels of buildings “where many people were seeking shelter.” 
The investigators were unable to examine all of the munitions used, but they were able to find and measure several rockets or their components. Using standard field techniques for ordnance identification and crater analysis, they established that at least two types of rockets had been used, including an M14 artillery rocket bearing Cyrillic markings and a 330-millimeter rocket of unidentified provenance. 
These findings, though not presented as evidence of responsibility, were likely to strengthen the argument of those who claim that the Syrian government bears the blame, because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency. 
Moreover, those weapons are fired by large, conspicuous launchers. For rebels to have carried out the attack, they would have had to organize an operation with weapons they are not known to have and of considerable scale, sophistication and secrecy — moving the launchers undetected into position in areas under strong government influence or control, keeping them in place unmolested for a sustained attack that would have generated extensive light and noise, and then successfully withdrawing them — all without being detected in any way.
One annex to the report also identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin. When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex. 
Other nonproliferation experts said the United Nations report was damning in its implicit incrimination of Mr. Assad’s side in the conflict, not only in the weaponry fragments but also in the azimuth data that indicated the attack’s origins. An analysis of the report posted online by the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, said “the additional details and the perceived objectivity of the inspectors buttress the assignment of blame to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government.”
The first argument -- that insurgents have not been seen using large rocket launchers -- I don't find compelling. Peter Krohn posted a link to a video yesterday showing rebels using 140-mm rockets. Granted this not a 330-mm rocket that Gladstone and Chivers mention. But simply because rebels have not been documented using this particular ordnance is not proof of Syrian Arab Army guilt.

What is more difficult to refute, assuming it is being accurately reported, is the azimuth data. We'll have to see how this plays out. Syria needs to address this argument in particular. There is enough information in the public sphere regarding rebel access to sarin and rockets that this isn't so much of a problem. But what about angles of impact pointing to Syrian military facilities?

The Gladstone and Chivers story ends tendentiously though, making me suspicious of the information that preceded it:
The report’s release punctuated a tumultuous week spawned by the global outrage over the attack, in which an American threat of punitive force on the Syrian government was delayed as Russia proposed a diplomatic alternative and intense negotiations between the United States and Russia led to a sweeping agreement under which Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal could be destroyed. 
The United Nations, in danger of becoming irrelevant in helping to end the Syria conflict, was suddenly thrust back into a central role, with the Security Council now engaged in deliberations over an enforceable measure to hold Syria to its commitment on chemical weapons.
This is a clear example of an ex post facto sculpting of reality. Horrible as it is, the global outrage was not over the chemical attack. Global outrage was over threats of another illegal, destabilizing U.S. war. It was not the United Nations that was in danger of becoming irrelevant, it was Obama. This is slanted reporting. Be wary, the warmongers aren't done with Syria.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Crisis Averted for the Time Being

This Monday morning it is apparent that the U.S.-Russian deal, brokered over the weekend, to rid Syria of its chemical weapons is a huge defeat for the warhawks. Two stories limn the plaintive cries of the warmongers as they rail at the failure of Obama to launch a strike: Anne Barnard's "Deal Represents Turn for Syria; Rebels Deflated" and Peter Baker's "Brief Respite for President, but No Plan B on Syria." Here are two essential quotes from each. First, Peter Baker:
Most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle just want the issue to go away. Indeed, the White House recommended to lawmakers that they move on to other subjects. The White House itself pivoted its public message back to economic issues on Sunday. Mr. Obama and Congress face critical deadlines in the next few weeks to keep the government open and avert a default. 
The prolonged process of finalizing a disarmament plan and putting it into effect over the course of a year would take Syria off the front burner for a while and could give Mr. Obama an opportunity to avoid action altogether. Senior administration officials made the case last week that the process itself serves as a deterrent because Mr. Assad presumably would not use his chemical weapons in the interim.
This supports the analysis provided on the Moon of Alabama blog. Western backing for the Syrian opposition will be slowly, gradually unwound. Crisis averted.

The rebels can read the handwriting on the wall. Here is Anne Barnard:
Bashir Hajji, a field commander with Liwaa al-Tawheed, a rebel group affiliated with the loose-knit, Western-backed Free Syrian Army, said the agreement had strengthened the growing suspicion among rebels and “civilians who want salvation” that the United States, which has not substantially delivered on promises to strengthen their forces, actually aims to prolong Mr. Assad’s rule. 
“The international community is providing a new chance for Assad’s gangs to continue the criminal play in Syria,” he said.
Thanks to Russia's masterly move in providing Obama an avenue of escape from the warmongers in his own administration and the foreign policy establishment, a wider war has been avoided. To deescalate the crisis Russia took advantage of the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of the general populous that was effectively blocking Congress from granting Obama an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Bush II had invaded Iraq despite huge antiwar rallies across the globe. The Russian diplomatic initiative was a necessary part of the solution. Leaders, for the most part, don't respect the people they govern.

So, for the time being, chalk up a win for democracy and the people.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #9

Jonathan Hickman outdoes himself and crosses some sort of boundary in conventional superhero comic books with Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #9, the last issue of the series to be penciled by Esad Ribic. The Obama-like president, addressing Congress in a joint session, is wiped out -- blown to kingdom come -- along with most of Washington D.C. by a ghoulish little boy carrying an anti-matter bomb sent by Reed Richards.

Scans of the beautiful last three pages of Ultimate Comes: The Ultimates # 9 you will find below:



The Colt 45 Chronicle #36

I'm getting off schedule with this letter archive project. "The Colt 45 Chronicle" is a collection of letters that were written my first two years in New York City. I had left the University of California and had moved with my wife to the Big Apple where she attended medical school. We lived in a housing high-rise on the urban campus of the health sciences complex on the western edge of Washington Heights.

I pulled the string-tied folder of letters out of storage during halftime of the Seahawks-Falcons playoff game last January. Bit by bit every Sunday afternoon I've been posting a letter here. It's an archive project that allows me to see who I was 25 years ago, which often times has proven to be an unpleasant experience.

I've been taking the letters off the top with no ordering or editing other than some punctuation changes and the occasional elision of a name. Two missives I've skipped entirely because they were all business -- "I'll be out of town on this date . . . You can meet me here at . . ." -- That type of thing.

The letter below is addressed to a guy I knew at Berkeley. He was an "art for art sake" bohemian who was a hanger-on with my group of friends. He was a participant in the events mentioned in Chronicle #15. Henry was his name. He liked to keep his cock in a tube sock; he boasted about how much he masturbated. Henry's good friend was a guy named Dallas. Dallas was in his 30s (we were all in our early 20s) and had a thick head of prematurely gray hair; he was a dishwasher, a smart guy, who I believe had been a graduate student at another university but who had migrated to Berkeley because Berkeley was Berkeley. He and Henry liked to go to parties -- any party. And this was the primary bond that I shared with them. They would supply information to me and my friends as to where the parties were -- mostly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights -- and we would crash them.

Henry and Dallas were after free beer and women and the sound of their own voices. We would go to these parties and argue about books. We would drink; there would be a fist fight now and then; sometimes there would be single women with whom to flirt. One much-discussed evening Henry and Dallas were alleged to have met a woman whom they escorted to a pornographic theater (they still had them in those days) where they had sex during the movie while the audience of forlorn single men hungrily looked on.

The letter below I'm sure was never sent. I would often begin a letter after I had completed one. I liked to create the kernel of an epistle when I was done with my third quart of beer and finished with whatever communique I had been working on and I was sitting contentedly beneath the palm at the end of my mind. Then later on, on another night, I would go back and expand the kernel into a full-blown letter. This one, probably because it was irredeemably negative, was never salvaged.
Autumn 1989 
Give up the ghost and try something like swimming off the maverick shore. 
Life never gets ironed out if you sit in the same seat all your life; -- that's got to be a foundational truth, huh?
Here, let me tell you something: people who've got big heads, as in strong minds (eggheads) -- like you Henry -- always have a problem with comfort; by problem I mean "need." You have an addiction to comfort in other words. Smart people have this problem because they're the first ones to figure out the pleasure-pain calculus; and, often times, the first ones there are the last ones to leave.
You're a sweet guy and you probably have a heart of gold, and I wish things were all comic books and Berkeley, but the truth is that is the farthest thing from the truth.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Quicksilver Messenger Service and Happy Trails


One band that seemed to be a participant at every seminal event in the formative Hippie years of 1966-1967 is Quicksilver Messenger Service. For instance, QMS performed at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in January 1967, where the Hippie was named, and the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, where the Hippie burst into the national consciousness during the "Summer of Love."

I've had a copy of Happy Trails (1969) loaded on my iTunes for a while, but I didn't really get around to studying it until this year. Word is that it is one of the all time great rock albums. Listen to it and you very well might agree. Its extended contemplation of Bo Diddley's foundational "Who Do You Love?" is otherwordly; it has been called the definitive recording of the psychedelic San Francisco ballroom sound. Listen to it and you conjure up a world whose conception of time -- the Hippie trip -- has long since gone the way of the dinosaurs.

That pregnant, full, meandering, languorous sense of time is on display in the first album as well, the eponymous Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968), though here it is less beautiful and seems shot through with Technicolor 1960s cowboy Western rhythms and imagery.


It is ironic that the band that so perfectly captured the Hippie sensibility of a deep, flowing type of time, as opposed to a standard manic rat-race reaffirmation of time found on the three-minute AM radio pop tune, would choose the speedy, elusive messenger god Mercury as its namesake. Speed as the primary force shaping our time is the hallmark of the Punk. (See Paul Virilio's Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology, published in the Punk year of 1977, for a discussion of speed as the essence of technological society.) And in the end this is an argument for the Hippie being a much more radical, revolutionary figure than the Punk. The Hippie sought an entirely different temporal order than the technological one ruling Industrial/Post-industrial society. The Punk pursued the opposite strategy. Rather than eschewing the temporal order of the dominant society, the Punk attempted to pluck out its heart -- speed.

After Happy Trails lead singer and rhythm guitarist Gary Duncan took a year-long hiatus, and QMS, like any good band, moved on in a different direction. But for those who want to experience what time felt like in the 1960s -- really, what the '60s were all about -- we have the first two Quicksilver Messenger Service records.