Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Remainder of NFL Week 13: Some Big Games for NFC West Teams

The Pittsburgh-Baltimore game turned out to be even better than its hype, providing a little Thanksgiving televisual bliss. The Steelers' final drive at the Ravens' goal line -- the hit on Le'Veon Bell that sent his helmet flying and killed the play on the half-yard line; Roethlisberger's TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery; then the failed two-point conversion to Emmanuel Sanders to tie the game -- made for some riveting holiday passivity. At 5-7 and one wild card spot already spoken for by either Kansas City or Denver, Pittsburgh's hopes of making the playoffs are remote. If Baltimore finds a running game, the Ravens could be a team to watch.

Sunday, a number of games have playoff implications. Arizona travels to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The Cardinals are hot at 7-4 having won four in a row while the Eagles have not played their best football at home this season. It is hard to believe that the Cardinals are locked in a battle for second place in the NFC West with the 49ers. I'm not a believer in Carson Palmer. But in a match-up between Bruce Arians and Chip Kelly, I'm taking Arians. The early betting line had the Cardinals by 4 points but then the money moved in the Eagles' direction. Ignore the money. Pick Arizona.

The afternoon game has the impressive Rams, winners of two in a row, traveling to Candlestick to take on San Francisco. St. Louis always plays tough against the 49ers and the Seahawks. The line has the 49ers as anywhere from a eight to nine-and-a-half point favorites. I don't know if San Francisco covers the spread, but I think the 49ers win the game. Take San Francisco.

The Monday night game is a potential NFC Championship preview: New Orleans at Seattle. Last year the Seahawks were flat coming off the bye week. But that involved cross-country travel to Miami. Monday they'll be at home in front of loud, adoring fans with a hunger for the Super Bowl. Drew Brees is masterful in his home dome, but more common playing in cool, rainy weather against a speedy pass rush. The line has the Seahawks by five. Take Seattle in a romp.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving NFL Games

For many years, after I had given up on living with a woman but I still maintained a girlfriend, I rigorously defended my right to spend Thanksgiving alone. I refused all offers from friends, family, girlfriend and girlfriend's family to share their table and give thanks collectively in favor of spending the day alone in my studio watching the Thanksgiving Day National Football League telecasts.

I have fond memories of these Thanksgivings. The apartment building would be quiet, deserted; the other tenants, gone elsewhere to celebrate the holiday. I would go out for run in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day cooking, eating a meal and watching the games. A small slice of nirvana.

This Thursday the games on tap are less than ideal. The first Thanksgiving game is always hosted by Detroit. This year it features the wounded Packers with high-priced castoff Matt Flynn almost certainly to start. The Lions have difficulty with Green Bay; lately Detroit has been playing unfocused football, losing to Pittsburgh and Tampa. The line has the Lions three-and-a-half point favorites, and they're at home. But I consider the game a toss-up. It's Flynn for Stafford. I've got to go with Stafford. Take the Lions.

The next game, which is now the second game since a night game has been added to the Thanksgiving schedule, is always hosted by big D. The Raiders -- perpetually wounded, perpetually suffering -- arrive in Arlington six-and-a-half point underdogs. The Cowboys looked decent against the Giants (giving me my only loss in games that I have picked so far this year). New York was not able to exploit the absence of middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller Sean Lee. Bruce Carter played well. Romo was solid. But Dallas has a nasty habit of playing poorly when the team is a favorite at home. While I'd love to see Oakland win, I think it would be a huge upset if they did. Take the Cowboys.

Finally, the Thanksgiving evening game on NBC features two perennial powerhouses each now staggering in Week 13 at 5-6. Pittsburgh deserves credit for scratching its way back into contention. Baltimore appears to be a shadow of the team that last year put together one of the most remarkable playoff runs in NFL history. This is another toss-up. Ray Rice appears to be running better in the last couple of games, but Dennis Pitta is still on injured reserve. The Steelers receivers are coming into their own. Pittsburgh is on a three-game win streak, but the Ravens are at home. I'm sitting this game out. May the best team win.

A word on Week 12. I threw in the towel on the Sunday night game at halftime. I figured that the Patriots were cooked. Twenty-four to zero with no evidence that Brady could thrown in the wind and the Broncos running backs racking up big yardage on the ground, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over. I felt shameful for having picked New England at home. But in the end, plaudits for Belichik's Patriots, a team I loathe, for hanging tough and coming back to win in OT against a formidable Denver team. It's a kind of win that could loom large for New England come the playoffs.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Obama Discovers a Truer Legacy

Pundits in the media always talk about a president's second term as a restless pursuit of legacy. Ego is definitely the main driver of political ambition; ego, and then down a ways, money.

Obama's signature domestic achievement has turned out to be a steaming crock of shit. Even if the online insurance exchange is repaired and registration becomes a simple, seamless event, you're still at the end of the day left with nothing more than a massive expansion of the U.S. health care status quo. As Ralph Nader pointed out this past weekend in an article, "21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare," that appeared on the Counterpunch web site,
In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.
Obamacare does nothing to mend the complexity, high co-pays and deductibles that prevent people from seeking medical attention. If this isn't apparent to most now, it will be in a few years.

No, Obama's legacy achievement is shaping up to be foreign policy. First, forgoing a missile strike against Syria in favor of an agreement he struck with the Russians for the government of Bashar al-Assad to give up its chemical weapons; this prevented the Syrian civil war from metastasizing into World War Three. Now, comes the agreement penned in Geneva on Sunday to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. As Mark Landler writes this morning in his frontpage story, "Nuclear Accord With Iran Opens Diplomatic Doors in the Mideast":
But the mere fact that after 34 years of estrangement, the United States and Iran have signed a diplomatic accord — even if it is a tactical, transitory one — opens the door to a range of geopolitical possibilities available to no American leader since Jimmy Carter. 
“No matter what you think of it, this is a historic deal,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It is a major seismic shift in the region. It rearranges the entire chess board.”
In both cases, Syria joining the chemicals convention and the Iranians agreeing to halt uranium enrichment at 5%, the Israelis and Saudis were apoplectic, publicly venting their frustration and lashing out at the Obama administration.

What does that tell you? It says that the House of Saud and the Likudniks who run Israel want war. They are states that thrive on war. But the neoliberal/neoconservative paradigm that coincides with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Grand Mosque Seizure and the Soviet Army deployment in Afghanistan is out of juice; it is all but dead. Yet it still governs the globe. And that's the problem. Obeisance to a dead, juiceless four-decade-old paradigm is killing us.

We need a shift. And that's what the Iranian nuclear program deal represents. It is a de facto acknowledgment (and one could argue that the "Joint Plan of Action" provides de jure recognition) of Iran's right to enrich uranium; it gets us out of the war track and onto a peace track. Already renewed efforts are being made for the Geneva II round of peace talks on the Syrian civil war.

Netanyahu and his Saudi allies will do everything they can to maintain the old paradigm. They have ample resources and a great deal of Congressional support. They have to proceed cautiously though. It's Thanksgiving week in the United States and people are in no mood to hear the war drums pounding. The people know who the warmongers are and they have had enough war.

The action will commence when Congress returns from the holiday and attempts to kill the Iranian deal by ratcheting up sanctions and then attaching those sanctions to any and all vital legislation in the hope that Obama will have to acquiesce. But Obama will not because he has found his true legacy.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Where Monsters Dwell #27: Grogg

Where Monsters Dwell #27 features "From Out of the Black Pit Came . . . Grogg!" which originally appeared in Strange Tales #83 (publication date, April 1961).

Almost a carbon copy of "Fin Fang Foom!" but appearing a half-year earlier, "Grogg!" is another Lee-Kirby Cold War anitcommunist faerie tale.

A hibernating colossal dragon-like creature is awoken by a secret nuclear test staged by a totalitarian Central European state bent on world domination. Once aroused Grogg! goes after the Reds. Note the Red Army uniforms bear an 'X' insignia rather than Soviet sickle & hammer. The pencils are by Jack Kirby; the inks, Dick Ayers.

The Colt 45 Chronicle #45

Like the chronicle posted last week this appears to be another example of a letter written to myself or possibly my friend Mark who was living in Madrid teaching English. 

I was a believer and practitioner of spontaneous prose or automatic writing. I was always looking for the "palm at the end of the mind." Once I had retreated from the university I threw myself headlong into the literature of Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowksi and John Fante as an emetic for all the classical learning I had ingested in the previous six years. Mostly I liked to drink. But I also liked to watch sports on television. At the end of the Reagan '80s right when the Berlin Wall was coming down there was still a little bit of the great state social cohesion around, but not for too much longer.

Autumn 1989 
keep fighting the good fight and don't stop and wait until next year to do it 
because the mind lies fallow a good many days as it is
and the key is to do that which pops into your head spontaneously, to do it spontaneously: symmetry between brain and heart/will
that probably adds up to soul, probably why alcoholics drink in the first place: to get put in touch with that place of minimal viscosity
boils down to a commercial, "NIKE: JUST DO IT!" (a sad holy statement of our age, that it should boil down to a commercial)
Uptown Liquor mart 4033 Broadway N.Y. near 170th Street
you see, at work we deal a lot with our imagination; one of our imagination pieces deals with the punishing of proofreaders -- that's who we are, the proofreaders; the person who checks and corrects and is in charge of the proofreaders' work will strap on a dildo, what we dubbed the "master dildo" (and she's a big women and she's a black woman), and me and my Jamaican buddy Richard imagine her screaming out as she's lancing one of us poor motherfuckers right in the arse, "KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN, GOD DAMN IT!" and we laugh like hell
and my mug is shoved in some trench coat ass as I ascend the steps of subway station Wall Street full of fear in expectation of the moil of the workday where people administrators discourse with serious jaws about color tabs, the question of color tabs: how many should be sent? one color for each group of employees? (the coders, the proofers, the file clerks)
oh me oh my, I'll take a sand dollar instead
but God I was gonna tell you how my hometown football team won the state championship this fall, and this despite being one of the smallest AAA high schools in Oregon (AAA high schools are the largest in the state: they have to have a student body of at least 750, or something like that; AA schools are at least 400; and A schools are 250 and under); anyway, it's kinda like Miami of Ohio winning the Orange Bowl and being declared National Champions. Ashlanders have never won a state championship before in their hundred-plus years, and whatdayaknow? they do it in 1989, just when I'm feeling my 25 years more than ever -- ouch! kick me into the charnel house, whydontcha? and don't spare the Neil Young and ham sandwiches while you're at it

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Infinity #3

Last weekend I dipped into Marvel's current crossover blockbuster event, Infinity.

Part of the Marvel NOW! re-branding that coincided with the conclusion of the Avengers vs. X-Men Phoenix war, Infinity, stretched as it is over several different titles with tie-ins in various books, is turgid, opaque, unsatisfying.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of writer Jonathan Hickman. And the art by Jerome Opeña, Dustin Weaver and Jim Cheung has been topnotch. It is just that I am exhausted with the blockbuster crossover events and the crass commercialism behind them. For instance, Age of Ultron supposedly feeds into the Infinity storyline, but I wouldn't know that because I threw in the towel on that blockbuster crossover event before the final issue. I have all the Age of Ultron issues here in the studio. I read the first five issues. I just have no desire to take the time to finish off the title.

The plot architecture of Infinity is a classic Western. Cavalry exits fort in pursuit of Indians. Marauders attack and capture defenseless fort. While most superheroes are in outer space engaged in Star Warsesque battles with the Builders, creators of the universe who have decided that the Earth must go, the baleful Thanos, in order to claim the remaining Infinity Gem, decides to stage a sneak attack on our seemingly defenseless blue-green planet.

Below are scans of the three pages that conclude Infinity #3. Black Bolt goes aurally ballistic on Thanos. The art is by Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver; colors, Justin Ponsor:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Avengers

To bring to a close a series of posts on the famous Winterland concert of January 14, 1978 -- the last show of the Sex Pistols, the event designated as the moment that Punk ended, the first wave at least, and Post-Punk began -- today's Hippies vs. Punks will look at the Avengers, the San Francisco band fronted by archetypal Punk lead singer Penelope Houston. All bands that performed that night, and even the one that didn't, will have thus been dealt with: Sex Pistols, The Nuns and Negative Trend. However meager the final product, there is something to be said for completion.

It is fitting that today, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, is the day that we finish off the Sex Pistols' final show at Winterland. Previously, we argued that the Age of Aquarius begins the summer of 1964 with the cross country psychedelic bus trip of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to the New York World's Fair, the same time the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is passed in Congress paving the way for the expansion of American involvement in the Vietnam War.

For several decades debate has raged in Kennedy assassination circles, largely I think due to Oliver Stone's JFK Hollywood blockbuster, whether the main motive of the conspirators who killed Kennedy was to prevent him from pulling U.S. troops out of Vietnam. John Newman wrote an influential book, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power (1992), that placed special significance on one of LBJ's first official acts as president: to sign a National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM 273) committing the United States to militarily prop up the rotten government of South Vietnam. Noam Chomsky entered the fray with Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture (1993) arguing that Kennedy was the ultimate Cold Warrior and that he had no intention of withdrawing from Vietnam.

The Hippies begin with the Vietnam War and end with the Vietnam War. First wave Punk occupies that important place where the Hippies die off and the tentacles of neoliberalism and neoconservatism are attached to the body politic. That's why it is so important in these End Times of the death throes of neoliberalism and neoconservatism that we go back and evaluate the period of first wave Punk, 1975 to 1979, in order to look for answers and see what mistakes were made and what was gotten right.

The Avengers have a nice take on the Kennedy assassination in "The Amerikan in Me," riffing on Kennedy's inaugural "Ask not what your country can do for you":
It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood
running out of the bullethole in his head.
It's the American in me that makes me watch TV
see on the news, listen what the man said.
He said

"Ask not what you can do for your country
what's your country been doing to you
Ask not what you can do for your country
what's your country been doing to your mind?"

It's the American in me says it an honor to die
in a war that's just a politicians lie
It's the American in me that makes me watch TV
see how they burn the SLA
They say

"Ask not what you can do for your country
what's your country been doing to you
Ask not what you can do for your country
what's your country been doing to your mind?"

In the USA!
In the USA!
In the USA!

It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood
running out of the bullethole in his head.
It's the American in me that never wonders why
Kennedy was murdered by the FBI (said)
Thanks to the recommendation of my buddy Oliver, I purchased a copy of the eponymous Avengers (1983), also known as the Pink Album, not too long, probably one year, after its release. I picked it up new at Rasputin Records, which tells me that at that point, late 1984, the record was still easily found and not the rarity it would become.

I played the LP a lot. I remember I copied it onto cassette tape for a high school buddy at Stanford whose musical tastes tended toward the commercial mainstream. I had a decent stereo; not connoisseur-level great, but a cut above your average undergraduate's sound system. It was a Marantz receiver, turntable and cassette tape player with a pair of fairly large big-woofer'd speakers made by a local company in Sunnyvale. I ran a patch jack from the receiver to a Toshiba boom box, allowing me to use the boom box's speakers as auxiliaries; this provided me a rich mid-range sound; it also provided the bonus, through use of the boom box's condenser mic, to add my singing voice to whatever album I was copying to cassette tape.

I only took advantage of this technical feature once. It was on a night I was making a tape of Avengers for my Stanford buddy Kevin. I was drunk and I moaned along with Penelope Houston on "Car Crash."

Later Kevin would say that whenever he had friends over to his dorm room sitting around drinking beer and they were listening to the cassette of Avengers I had made he would have to spring quickly to his stereo and fast forward past that part of the tape to save him and me from embarrassment.

In any event, the Pink Album was put together by drummer Danny Furious a few years after the band broke up in 1979. Penelope Houston describes the process in an excellent interview with rock 'n' roll historian Richie Unterberger:
I moved to England, and before I left the country--this was in '81, '82--Danny [Furious], who was the drummer, was living in San Francisco trying to ask me for any tapes I had or photos. Because he wanted to get an album together. I think I sent him some stuff. The album originally came out on Go! Records, which were partners with David Ferguson [of CD Presents]. They had some falling out. He ended up suing them, and preventing them from releasing that record when they had already printed up 1000 record covers. Every now and then you can see those in collections. But I was in Europe, and basically he was dealing with Danny. So he had Danny's permission to put it out on his label. 
At some point, I think that the other guys said hey, what about us? Because Danny was getting these producer advances. So then Jimmy came on board, Jimmy Wilsey, and he was doing something with it. Because he felt that Danny was not handling it. When I came back to San Francisco, I called up Ferguson's. I said, "You've put all this stuff [out], you haven't even asked me. And you haven't given me money, you haven't sent me any contract." He said, "Oh, yeah, come on in." I was visiting, actually, I hadn't moved back. I called and called and called. I tried to contact him from the U.K., where I was living. I went to his house, and as soon as I was there on his door, somebody said, "Oh, I have some contracts for you to sign now!" So he gave me a small advance. That was the last money that I ever saw from him. It came out as a CD after that. Of all the CDs that have sold of that record, I've seen zero royalties. 
It would have been great if somebody might take it upon themselves to wrest the rights from CD Presents, because they really don't exist as a label anymore. They can sell the rights. Since he hasn't paid the band their royalties or their one point I got together with Jimmy and Greg [Westermark], and we went and saw a lawyer. Danny was living in Sweden. To see what we could do to get back the publishing. The contract that was signed was so horribly written that not only did we get nothing, not only that we didn't get the pittance that was accorded to us on the contract, but you couldn't take it to court, it had to be settled in arbitration or something like that. The lawyers just looked at it and said, "This is fucked." We didn't have the money to throw at it. I keep hoping that someday some label will decide to write them a letter and see what they're willing to do. In the meantime, we haven't gotten anything. The last time we saw any money from them was over ten years ago. I don't know what it really sold.
It is a great album. I think it is the closest that an American band came to the sound and vibe of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977). For that reason alone it is an amazing record.

Steve Jones produced one of the band's two EPs, Avengers (1979), which appeared shortly after the band split up. Two of the songs -- "White Nigger" and "Corpus Christi" -- end up on the Pink Album. You can hear the signature Steve Jones Sex Pistols guitar sound on "White Nigger"; it is one of my favorite cuts:

Penelope Houston is the perfect counterpart to Johnny Rotten. She is a pure manifestation of West Coast egalitarian femininity and strength. When you listened to the Avengers there was never any questioning Penelope Houston's sexual identity. Yet she never vamps. It is a feminine persona that is tough -- you would never dare imagine fucking with Penelope Houston -- but also waifish and vulnerable. There is no other first wave Punk lead except for Johnny Rotten who taps into that untouchable, unassailable white light of youth, the ultimately rare type of soul who you would follow over the ramparts to a certain death because she is so pure, so true.

The 2012 digital-download version of the two-disk Pink Album, available on Penelope Houston's web site, is a must-have. I imagine as the years wind on Avengers will continue to grow in importance and it will come to be seen -- if it isn't already -- as one of the seminal recordings of first wave Punk..

Though "Second to None" and "Corpus Christi" appear on side two of the 1983 vinyl LP, the songs I mostly remember from my college days are "The Amerikan in Me," "White Nigger," "Car Crash," the cover of "Paint it Black," and of course "We Are the One." Hearing these two tracks today they both sound really good. Below are recent performances of "Second to None" and "Corpus Christi":

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Errol Morris' Short Film on Josiah Thompson

The best case for the existence of a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy, one that deviates from the official version of a lone gunman that is memorialized  in the Warren Commission report, is still the photographic evidence taken that day from bystanders in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, particularly the Zapruder film.

Today on its web site the New York Times publishes a short film by Errol Morris, "November 22, 1963." Morris interviews Josiah Thompson, author of an early and extremely influential book on the Kennedy assassination, Six Seconds in Dallas (1967).

Thompson's argument is simple a one. Look at the pictures -- just look at them -- of the assassination. The conclusion one must come to is that the kill shot came from the front and to the right of the motorcade as it drove down Elm Street, the area that is known as the grassy knoll. This means that the conspiracy theorists are correct because the Warren Commission's official conclusion is that the only gunman was Lee Harvey Oswald who made an impossibly difficult kill shot with a junk Italian rifle from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

I immersed myself in the Kennedy assassination for a couple of years. I did so from the perspective of Deconstruction and the idea that everything is textual, everything -- for us to know it -- is written. So what was the "Moby Dick" of all that Kennedy assassination literature trying to say?

The photographic documentation alone compels one to accept that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. After spending time with the literature I arrived at the working hypothesis based on the simple but necessary question "cui bono?" that LBJ was involved in the conspiracy. LBJ handpicked the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission relied on J. Edgar Hoover's FBI for its research and documentation in formulating its lone gunman theory. LBJ and J. Edgar were good buddies whose careers both benefited from Kennedy's departure. Both were buddies of proto-Tea Partier Texas oil mogul Clint Murchison, Sr.

To flesh out the nature of the LBJ "cui bono?" I looked at the TFX contract investigation. All the major Congressional investigations of the Kennedy administration -- Billie Sol Estes, TFX, and Bobby Baker -- track back to LBJ. The answer to who benefited with Kennedy out of the way is obvious.

Check out Errol Morris' film on Josiah Thompson. It's dynamite.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Loya Jirga + NFL Week 12

The loya jirga begins tomorrow in Afghanistan. It will decide whether to approve the Status of Forces Protection Agreement (SOFA) close to being hammered out by the government of Hamid Karzai and the United States. According to a report today by Rod Nordland, "Afghans Demand That U.S. Admit Military Errors," everything is settled, even the contentious issues of immunity from Afghan law for U.S. forces and the continuation of the counterterrorism practice of raiding private homes. The only item pending is a letter of apology from Obama for military blunders:
With one day remaining to finalize the wording of the security agreement before the loya jirga meets, [Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman] said that was the remaining issue in talks, carried out in their last phase by Mr. Karzai with the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, and the American military commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. 
“The rest, everything is solved,” Mr. Faizi said.
It will be interesting to see the size of the U.S. military footprint once the loya jirga, whose participants are handpicked by Karzai, signs off on the SOFA. Iraq refused the customary U.S. demand for immunity during its SOFA negotiations, which led to a complete withdrawal of American forces. At the end of last month al-Maliki made an official visit to Obama to ask for drones and Apache helicopters to combat an Al Qaeda insurgency raging in Iraq. There is no doubt that without a substantial military commitment by Obama Karzai will be fleeing Kabul in a matter of months, if that, after U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year.

The Afghan loya jirga starts tomorrow, but so too does Week 12 of the National Football League season with the 8-2 Saints traveling to Atlanta to take on the hapless 2-8 Falcons. Surveying the big games nothing really pops out. The hometown Seahawks have a bye week. Next Monday night they will host New Orleans in a possible playoff preview. Seattle looked impressive in the second half against the Vikings. The Seahawks continue to underwhelm at home in the first half. The defense looks lackluster, though, to its credit, they completely dominated Adrian Peterson from start to finish. The remaining five games will tell Seahawks fans a lot about how far their team is going to go towards the Lombardy Trophy. The schedule is: Saints at home, 49ers away, Giants away, Cardinals home, Rams home. Each game is a potential loss. Besides the obvious challenge offered by conference powers New Orleans and San Francisco, New York is surging, as is Arizona, and St. Louis almost beat us at home last year. So Pete Carroll needs to get his team better prepared coming out of the bye than it was last year when they dropped a game they should have won in Miami. In that game the run defense and pass rush were piss poor.

Two Week 12 games promise to be interesting. The Cowboys travel to New Jersey to take on the Giants. The Giants have won four in a row after losing their first six games. The Cowboys have been banged up on defense. Without having watched a complete game of New York's this season, I'm taking the Giants over Dallas.

The other game that is worth watching is the Sunday night match-up between the Patriots and the Broncos. Much as I loathe to do it, I've got to take New England at home. Yes, Denver looked impressive at home against the Chiefs, but I'm convinced that Belichik as an underdog at home with Brady at QB in the premiere televisual event of the week is a safe bet. (Belichik often performs poorly as a favorite; but as an underdog, he is money in the bank.) Take the Patriots.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Toadies" + "Don't Dictate" + Doris Lessing's Obit

Before he exited the glass doors an old lineman whispered to me that the Rapture is coming. He had just told me about his ongoing suit against the Internal Revenue Service in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Lou Reed sang in "Some Kinda Love" that "Between thought and expression lies a lifetime." What about between what is thought and unthought? What happens to all the events that speed by during the day -- the escalators rides at night, the petty slights delivered by heedless supervisors, the sips of coffee, the furtive glances at Google News, the trips to the latrine? All instantaneously forgotten as if they never occurred. This would have to be what time is.

Each day it seems I discuss a new cataclysm with a coworker who occupies the cubicle next to mine. Typhoons demolishing the Philippines. Tornadoes ravaging the Midwest. War in the Middle East. Sometimes we talk through the fabric wall of the cubicle without looking at each other. Sometimes we stand and stare at each other through the panel of Plexiglass that tops the cubicle. "People don't believe in science anymore," we say. "It is End Times."

But what I wanted to quote is the final two paragraphs of the slightly sneering New York Times obituary of the great Doris Lessing written by Helen Verongos:
After a stroke, in the late 1990s, Ms. Lessing said she would no longer travel. Constantly reminded of her mortality, she said she became consumed with deciding what she should write in the precious time that remained. 
But in discussing her writing in 2008, she said: “It has stopped; I don’t have any energy anymore. This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me, don’t imagine you’ll have it forever. Use it while you’ve got it because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plug hole.”
(On the train home tonight I was given energy by Mike Watt & the The Missing Men's "Toadies" and Penetration's "Don't Dictate.")

Gray Lady Reevalutes Rebels + War on Iran

The glaring turnaround of the Gray Lady's reporting on the Syrian civil war is on full display in today's story on recently slain Tawhid Brigade commander Abdulkader al-Saleh, "Death of Pragmatic Leader Further Muddles Syrian Rebellion." Gone are the days when every story written by Beirut bureau chief Anne Barnard ritualistically denounced the baleful Bashar al-Assad while at the same time it feted the rebels for their courageous commitment to liberation. This pattern continued long after the reality of the war refused to bare it out. The ragtag homespun brigades of the Free Syrian Army gave way to the Saudi- and Qatari-funded jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Al Nusra Front some time ago, definitely by the time the Syrian government retook Qusayr last June, but it has only been in the last few months that Gray Lady has seen fit to spotlight the dominant role of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists in Syria's civil war.

Today's assessment of the career of Abdulkader al-Saleh is an indictment of the drift of the opposition towards Al Qaeda but it also reads like the Gray Lady's mea culpa for not earlier calling her readers' attention to it:
But when [Abdulkader al-Saleh] died Thursday of wounds from an airstrike in Aleppo, he and Tawhid were months into a slow decline from the peak of their influence. The extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had edged out Tawhid as the pace-setting group policing the northern province. And as that group’s foreign fighters stepped up kidnappings, public executions and attacks on Tawhid and its rebel allies, Mr. Saleh disappointed some of his comrades by remaining largely silent, trying to mediate the disputes rather than fighting to prevent the atrocities and infighting that have gutted the revolt from within. 
Mr. Saleh’s story, much like that of the movement for which he left his life as a seed trader and father of five, unfolded as one of optimism and possibility diverted by war’s disappointments and, it seemed, its moral exigencies and dark alliances. 
As foreign fighters and money from extremist Islamists poured into Syria, he seemed to decide that was the direction the war was going and to coast with it. He spoke often, in meetings over the past year with New York Times reporters who also spent time with Tawhid, of Syrian hospitality and a commitment to an open, pluralistic Syria. But he ultimately made accommodations with ISIS that, to some of his allies, were at best disappointing and at worst ugly.
Another story worth checking out today is "Split on Accord on Iran Strains U.S.-Israel Ties" by David Sanger and Jodi Rudoren. The takeaway is that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu wants war. Bibi is demanding a complete dismantling and confiscation of all Iranian nuclear-related infrastructure a la Libya in 2003. The Obama administration does not see this as a reasonable bargaining position, choosing instead to focus on Iran's "break out" ability, the capacity to actually produce a functioning nuclear weapon:
“The situation has changed and everybody else except Israel understands that a deal means to be more flexible,” said Giora Eiland, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “Netanyahu speaks only about a good deal. The Americans are speaking about a reasonable deal, which is better than having no deal at all.” 
For his part, Mr. Kerry has questioned publicly whether Mr. Netanyahu is aware of all the details in the agreement. And in some cases, Israeli officials appear to have distorted what Iran would get in return. 
At a briefing with international journalists on Wednesday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said the deal would directly erase $15 billion to $20 billion of what he estimated was the $100 billion the current sanctions are costing Iran annually, and lead to relief of up to $40 billion because of indirect effects. The State Department immediately debunked those numbers, noting the sanctions relief would be for only six months, not a year. And the Americans put the figure at under $10 billion. But Israeli leaders have continued to cite the higher estimates.
The Likudniks have ample support in Congress. Obama has very little if any mojo left as the Affordable Care Act debacle continues to unfold. The chance of him being able to pull off another eleventh hour deal like the one that avoided war with Syria seems highly unlikely. At home corporations are going after the tattered working class. In 2014 there will be a right-to-work initiative in Oregon. Boeing is looking to bust the Machinists. The plutocrats would love to deal a blow to the solidly progressive West Coast. To add another phony war in the Middle East to this mix would have consequences far beyond the understanding of our ruling elites.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where Monsters Dwell #26: Metallo

Where Monsters Dwell #26, which had a publication date of January 1974, reprints Tales of Suspense #16 from April 1961. It is a Lee-Kirby story, one that has the feel of being dashed off quickly. But like so many of the Lee-Kirby Silver Age monster tales, it is illuminating to read as a precursor of a Marvel superhero; in this case Iron Man, who debuts two years later in Tales of Suspense #39.

"The Thing Called Metallo!" tells the tale of a hardened convict who escapes from the penitentiary and makes his way to the metropolis hoping to blend in and disappear. Fretful that he will be discovered because of the thickness of police on the streets, he decides to volunteer to be an experimental subject. The military is researching a nuclear-blast-resistant, fully-automated lead suit. The escaped convict learns of the military's test by seeing the front page of a newspaper that a newsboy is hawking on the street. 

(The use of a newspaper headline to point the narrative action is a device frequently employed by Stan Lee. Now that no one reads newspapers anymore in public, Lee would have to have his criminal or space alien sneak a peek at someone's tablet or smart phone. Not quite the same, is it?)

The military accepts the escaped convict who assumes the alias George Brown and run him through a series of tests. First, he is placed on a tiny atoll in the middle of the ocean and a nuclear bomb is detonated. The island is completely submerged but the suit is watertight and apparently has its own oxygen supply. The escaped convict is able to fight off a giant octopus. Super-strength is included as well in the suit's features.

After the test on the atoll the military hangs the suited-up Mr. Brown from a helicopter and fires a nuclear missile at him. This is where the storytelling gets sloppy. Even a sheltered, jejune schoolboy in Jack Kennedy's America would question -- I hope -- how the helicopter, which enjoyed none of the high-tech lead shielding that swaddled the escaped convict, could withstand the blast of a nuclear missile. But it does and so does the escaped convict.

It is after the mid-air test that the escaped convict reveals his true identity to the military, adopts the name Metallo! and takes off for San Francisco by stowing away in a tractor trailer that is conveniently passing by on a New Mexico highway.

Metallo breaks into a bank vault in San Francisco by burrowing underground. He then gets the idea to put together an army of convicts by swimming out to Alcatraz and liberating the incarcerated. Once there he falls ill. It is at this point that I am thinking that Lee is going to spring lead poisoning on his readers, that the escaped convict spent too much time in the experimental lead suit and he was getting sick from exposure. But I guess lead poisoning was not as widely acknowledged in 1961 as it is today. Metallo is diagnosed as suffering from a "malignant disease" based on a verbal examination given by the medical staff at Alcatraz (see the last scan). The cure is radiation treatment. But in order to be treated the escaped convict would have to exit his suit, which would mean finishing life in prison.

Unable to decide what to do -- die in his suit or behind bars -- Metallo in the last panel of the comic book wanders off into the coastal mountains of California. An impenetrable suit of armor comes with a high price. One is never truly invulnerable.

Below are scans of the cover, the two splash pages, a couple interior pages along with individual panels that I enjoyed:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #44

This is an example of a letter written to myself, probably with the intention of reworking it into a letter to a friend. I remember I took a copy of it with me when I drove back to the West Coast from New York City in December of 1988. I quit my first career-track job at the Foundation Center after three months. I couldn't stand it. Nothing at the university had prepared me for the horror -- the horrible pettiness and ignobility -- of the 9-to-5 life.

The ostensible reason for the drive back to California was to return a VW bus to my father. Keeping it in New York City was not an option. My wife was in class all day and I was downtown at work. We had no parking space included as part of our married student housing. So we had to park the bus on the street which required frequent moves due the city's alternate side of street parking schedule. We accumulated tickets and the bus was broken into on more than one occasion.

I refer to myself below in the third person. The tone is semi-bombastic, par for the course for most of these youthful letters, which probably had something to do with the fact that I was normally drunk when I sat down at the word processor. I recount a morning after I stayed up all night writing a paper on Plato's Gorgias and then zonked from lack of sleep and too much speed getting lost in the Berkeley hills trying to find the house of my professor, kind old man Gregory Vlastos. My wife, who was still at that point my girlfriend, had recently moved out of our apartment so as to be better able to pursue her trists.

After I finally located Vlastos' house and slipped my paper under his door, I headed home via a route that took me through campus; that's where I ran into my professor Art Quinn and the departmental administrative assistant Andy who was working his throwing arm with one those big rubber bands. I think he belonged to a fast-pitch softball league.

Autumn 1988 
Cocksure and lesson-proof. Pay attention more to my brain and less to direction. A time when I listened to ON THE BEACH, when Ashley had moved out, when I had been left utterly alone and semi-adult with my graduate-class-on-Plato-with-the-foremost-scholar; friends poured in, wanting to see the new man, and all his new old furniture. Coming down off speed, off crystal, which he had been with so much during that period, the world was new for him. People came to him. The walk at dawn had gone on earlier, like Christ without a cross. The pilgrimage that meant nothing but burnt paper. You can't hold a candle to it. Talking to Quinn and Andy on the way back: Quinn was pitching Thomas Mann; I was pitching Homer; Andy was pitching pitching. -- Off to Chateau and Mark naked and the shitty out-of-place reggae music which was the choice over Irangate on the radio on the way to a Mastercard breakfast. Nothing can touch that time for what it was: William Henry Harrison, a Snuz fight, a rosewood legged chair that smelled like a dead dog; "Adorno as the Devil" by Lyotard; Shale with a girlfriend at last, crazy and gone.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Remembering Jacques Derrida at the Holiday Inn

I did see Derrida. It was at the Holiday Inn in San Francisco. It was early 1988, a cold morning. I went with my buddy Matt. Before the conference began -- it was a big convention space, the American Philosophical Association was the sponsoring organization -- I was able to size up the great man in close proximity in the hallway outside. He was smallish in stature and well groomed and tailored, not in a foppish or dandy way, but in a formidable manner. He warmly greeted old lady Majorie Grene, a UC Davis professor who had written an early influential book in the U.S. on Existentialism, Introduction to Existentialism (1959), a copy of which I had at Berkeley and I think I have here somewhere.

Derrida was on a panel that morning in the big hall with a very nervous Rodolphe Gasche who almost melted down while speaking. Derrida was extremely kind to him up there in front of all the hostile American philosophers.

Derrida took the podium after Gasche, who had written a pro-Derrida book published in 1986, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection, and in passing the red-faced Gasche who was on his way back to his seat at the table on the dais Derrida clasped him around the shoulders in a totally selfless act of benevolence. I always remembered that. That and Derrida's hostile reception from the majority of the audience who were obviously tenured old professors.

During the question and answer period (Matt took a crack with one about the etymology of genuflection and genius -- moving the seed up to the brain) Derrida responded to a hostile inquiry with what I thought was an incredible revelation for a professional philosopher and intellectual -- "More and more I cannot tell the difference between having read and not having read." Or something along those lines.

My project in my lost honors thesis was to place Derrida as a Kantian; that the Kantian nature of Deconstruction could be understood by looking at -- of all people -- the founder of analytic philosphy, Gottlob Frege. With this argument I would then bridge the divide between continental and analytic philosophy. My end point was to arrive at a new pedagogy, one Derrida points the way to in Of Grammatology (1967), but one that was more explicitly informed by Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1788), his moral philosophy. Ambitious. Turned out to be too ambitious.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Damnation of Adam Blessing

Last Friday I had to take a rain check on the Hippies vs. Punks post. I was wiped out. The loss of Daylight Savings combined with my daily three-hour commute has sent me reeling. My training regimen has largely disappeared; subsequently, my conditioning is on the wane. It will be interesting to see how I perform at a Thanksgiving 10K turkey trot. I anticipate a lot of suffering.

For last Friday's post I had intended to return to the Cincinnati Pop Festival of 1970 to look at another band on the undercard of that show. The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival of 1970 is remembered because the entire 14-hour show was filmed by WLWT (Channel 5) and then edited down to 90 minutes and broadcast nationally in August as Midsummer Rock. The iconic image that remains from that event is Iggy Pop's crowd surfing to "T.V. Eye" and "1970."

The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival of 1970 took place at Crosley Field on June 13, 1970 a couple weeks before the Reds moved to Riverfront Stadium and a month after the nation's campuses burned as a result of the Kent State shootings. Nineteen-seventy is an important year for the Hippie. The more time I spend on Hippies vs. Punks the more I realize it is the high-water mark for the Hippies, a time when revolution seemed inevitable.

I have looked at a couple of other bands who performed at the Cinci Pop Festival -- Texas Hippies Bloodrock, and Alice Cooper when they were still with Frank Zappa's avant-garde Straight Records label. Originally I had intended to focus on The Damnation of Adam Blessing but opted for Bloodrock instead because full albums are available on YouTube; for the Damnation of Adam Blessing there are only individual songs, mostly from the 1969 eponymous debut.

The Damnation of Adam Blessing was a Cleveland Acid Rock band that played second fiddle to the James Gang. To form the group guitarist Jim Quinn and lead singer Adam Blessing née Bill Constable originally of the garage band the Society recruited Bob Kalamasz, Ray Benich and Bill Schwark of Dust.

(The damnation or curse of Adam refers to God's punishment of Adam and Eve for eating of the apple: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and . . . By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,” Genesis 3:17-19. Adam's curse, that he has to toil, is also his blessing -- his labor.)

The Damnation of Adam Blessing put out a total of four albums: The Damnation of Adam Blessing (1969); Second Damnation (1970); Which is the Justice Which is the Thief (1971) under the shortened band name of Damnation; and finally Glory (1973) under the band name Glory.

The first two albums along with the final album can be downloaded in MP3 format from Amazon. I listened to the first two albums repeatedly all of last week. They're excellent. I prefer them to the first James Gang record, Yer' Album (1969). (Yer' Album is noteworthy because it captures the "Classic Rock" avalanche to come over the next few years, the one that buries the Hippies.)

The sound of the The Damnation of Adam Blessing and Second Damnation is Acid Rock, what rock 'n' roll was before it lost its social revolutionary component and coagulated into "Hard Rock," and then into what is now referred to as Classic Rock. This transformation takes place starting in 1971 and ends when the Punks knock the Hippies off in the late 1970s.

Now buildings are being bulldozed by the thousands in industrial heartland cities like Detroit and Cleveland and urban forests are springing up in St. Louis. Cleveland is allowing people to raise sheep, pigs and goats in residential areas. Looking back on 1970 and listening to the Acid Rock of Second Damnation (my favorite Damnation of Adam Blessing record, particularly the track "In the Morning") what one sees (and hears) is the zenith of the Hippies but also a farewell to post-war American industrial stability.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NFL Week 11: Three Big Games

Just glancing at the Week 11 schedule, a few games really stand out.

49ers at the Saints. New Orleans put up a lot of points against Dallas last Sunday night. But most of those points came after middle linebacker Sean Lee left the game with a hamstring pull. Then DeMarcus Ware got hurt. Drew Brees will have a harder time with San Francisco. The Saints look good though, and they're at home. If Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas get any kind of traction running the ball, you've got to take the Saints in the Superdome.

The Sunday night game should be very revealing. Do the Broncos or the Chiefs have feet of clay? Denver at home has always been able to score points even prior to the arrival of Peyton Manning. If Tamba Hali doesn't have a big game and Manning has time to set up and throw the ball down the field, I can't see how Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles keep Kansas City in the game. Though I'd love for Andy Reid to take home the win, I've got to pick the Broncos.

Finally, the Monday night game pitting the Patriots against the Panthers at Charlotte will let us know how good Ron Rivera's Carolina squad is. I think they're playing some of the best football in the league right now. I think that trend continues. Panthers win big.

It's Dark Now and Getting Darker

I don't know if it is the disappearance of sunlight now that it is late fall or if it is the overwhelmingly bad news that I consume every day but whatever it is there is a pervasive feeling of doom and gloom. The war in Syria continues. Recently a Kurdish militia, the Democratic Union Party, announced that it was setting up a provisional government in northern Syria along the Turkish border. More clashes can be expected with Sunni jihadis who have announced the creation of a caliphate in the same territory. Then there is the polio outbreak there. The virus is thought to have originated in Pakistan, likely brought to Syria by a jihadi bent on butchering Alawites.

What about the Fukushima nuclear disaster? Everything one reads about it says the worse is yet to come.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments against union-employer neutrality agreements. If the court accepts the position that neutrality agreements are "a thing of value" and bans them then there goes one of the most effective tools that unions have utilized in the last ten years to organize workers. Obama when he was first elected was supposed to push for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which would have enshrined card check in federal law. He did not and there is no indication that he ever will. If the Supreme Court bans neutrality agreements one wonders what that means for the future of EFCA.

Unions, whatever their faults, are still the best hope, however slim it is, to effect change within this corrupt system. They possess resources -- money, infrastructure, intelligence -- without which our only recourse is to go the Occupy route of Hooverville-type pressure politics, and that route invariably ends in violence.

To be sure, I think we're headed in that direction. I think Chris Hedges is right: the revolution is coming. But if the Supreme Court ends up eviscerating unions when the working class is already on the ropes, then the revolution happens sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gray Lady's New Focus on Jihadi Role in Syrian Civil War

Over the last couple months a shift has been apparent in the way the New York Times covers the Syrian civil war. No longer is the conflict covered solely through the prism of al-Assad's demonization. Where before the rise of Al Qaeda and Wahhabism as dominant forces among the rebels received mention, if at all, at the bottom of the story, now, it is the lede. (To give credit where credit is due, Anne Barnard, the Gray Lady's Beirut Bureau Chief and principal reporter on the civil war, fell out of love with the Syrian National Coalition at the end of summer about the time of the Ghouta gassing.)

What this undoubtedly reflects is a shift in the official United States Government position. Once the plan to attack Syria was aborted due to overwhelming public and Congressional opposition, the Obama administration has embraced a position -- at least for public consumption -- that is a polar opposite of one that it espoused just a few months ago.

Despite caterwauling by the Saudis, the U.S. now sees Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Nusra Front as far more significant threats than the Syrian government. Today's frontpage story, "Private Donors’ Funds Add Wild Card to War in Syria," by Ben Hubbard is the most recent example of the Obama administration's "pivot" to deal with the jihadi domination of pockets of Syria.
Most private donors shun the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, undermining a body meant to unify the rebels into a moderate force. And they dismiss the opposition’s political leadership as well as calls by the United States and other powers for peace talks. With funds estimated to be at least in the tens of millions of dollars, they have contributed to the effective partition of Syria, building up independent Islamist militias that control territory while espousing radical ideology, including the creation of an Islamic state.
Hubbard focuses on the funding network operating in Kuwait. Most of its support goes to Al Nusra.
The Kuwaiti government has played down the importance of the funds, saying Kuwait’s charitable contributions dwarf any cash sent for arms.
American officials disagree. 
“The Kuwaitis could be doing a lot more on this issue,” said David S. Cohen, the Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He said that Kuwait posed the region’s biggest problem of financing linked to extremists in Syria, and that American efforts to press the issue with the Kuwaiti government had yielded limited results. 
Mr. Cohen declined to estimate the amount of private funding flowing through Kuwait to Syria, but said it was enough to equip extremist fighters with ample light arms and supplies.
This kind of reporting represents a significant change. The Gulf monarchies will take note. American public opinion is already strongly anti-sheikhdom, running far ahead of what is allowed in the mainstream media. If this point of view gets a toehold in the prestige press, watch out.

Where Monster's Dwell #25: Steve Ditko's "When the Earth Vanished!"

Last Tuesday the New York Times published a story, "Far-Off Planets Like the Earth Dot the Galaxy," spotlighting a Berkeley grad student's calculation, based on data from the NASA's Kepler space probe before it malfunctioned, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets in the galaxy:
Astronomers reported that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy, based on a new analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
One out of every five sunlike stars in the galaxy has a planet the size of Earth circling it in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot, not too cold — where surface temperatures should be compatible with liquid water, according to a herculean three-year calculation based on data from the Kepler spacecraft by Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. 
Mr. Petigura’s analysis represents a major step toward the main goal of the Kepler mission, which was to measure what fraction of sunlike stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets. Sometimes called eta-Earth, it is an important factor in the so-called Drake equation used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe. Mr. Petigura’s paper, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, puts another smiley face on a cosmos that has gotten increasingly friendly and fecund-looking over the last 20 years. 
“It seems that the universe produces plentiful real estate for life that somehow resembles life on Earth,” Mr. Petigura said.
Maybe one of those planets is home to the martial Goloks whose tale is told in Where Monsters Dwell #25.

"When the Earth Vanished!" is unattributed in the online Marvel database. It's obviously Steve Ditko's art. And it is likely a Stan Lee story. Originally appearing in the same issue of Tales of Suspense as "Electro!" (Tales of Suspense #13, January 1961), "When the Earth Vanished!" chronicles an alien invasion of earth by futuristic barbarians eager to test a super-bomb. After their rocket lands they are amazed to discover a barren, white waste. Based on observation, earth had presented itself as a blue-green gem teeming with life. Befuddled, the Goloks decide to detonate their super-bomb immediately. The heat wave of the bomb blast ends up destroying the Goloks, who, as it turns out, are of microscopic size; the barren, white waste they found themselves in, a child's ping-pong ball.

Below are a few scans taken from Where Monsters Dwell #25: