Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unemployment Spring #1

Situated inside a disintegrating studio, disintegrating because it is constructed of lath and plaster and is more than a hundred years old, I enjoyed a strange vacation week, a week the likes of which I haven't experienced since I was unemployed for three months during the spring of 2011.

But now the rat race beckons. Even though Monday is two days away, I can feel its tug already. So this morning, after reading yesterday's paper and a portion of the frontpage of today's, I set to tasks I've been puttering around the edges of all week. First up, the bathroom.

Listening to Eric Dolphy (there was a decent story the other day about the Library of Congress acquiring his papers) while washing windows, scrubbing the toilet bowl, mopping the floors with Lysol -- that, and sweeping out a small hallway leading to the bathroom and cleaning out a clothes closet therein -- left me with the impression that society as presently configured is insane. There is not enough time. We, the citizenry, are being compacted. There is the necessity to maintain an income, which means employment. This consumes more and more of our time. Then there are personal relationships, like the young couple on the street below my bathroom window strolling in the spring sun this Saturday morning, which for most constitute the next great expenditure of time. For me, not so. For me, it is information -- the never-ending battle to stay informed.

That is one of the reason cleaning the studio here is such a daunting chore. There are piles everywhere -- piles of books, newspapers, printouts, comics, scribbled notes, manila folders of projects years old. I worked with a German woman one time who said that she didn't like to keep books in the house because books were dirty. She said that they are magnets for dust. I have never forgotten that. I believe it to be true, particularly when you live in a building over one-hundred years old with walls of lath and plaster.

But I would rather live a life cradled in filth than one without books. I just need to clean more often, an unappealing prospect since that would require spending what little free time I have on the weekends behind a vacuum cleaner rather than reading. I presently work with a woman who lives in a trailer park, and that is how she spends most every weekend -- cleaning her home. She is a dispatcher. So her work week is stressful, demanding -- a lot of time on the phone with contractors and union members trying to get people to the job site. I have done that job. It is a high-adrenalin, tongue-chewing occupation that leaves you wrung out by day's end. To think that after a week of that one's free time is spent cleaning house -- that, for me, is too much. It is insane.

My unemployment spring of three years ago, which this vacation week has reminded me of, was due to a layoff from a dispatcher job I had with a carpenters local. In addition to keeping a log of my job searches, a condition of compliance with employment security in order to receive unemployment compensation, I decided to maintain a daily life log. It was a way to maintain sanity. It is easy to get hinky living a life of unemployed isolation. I am an old pro of being out of work. I learned my lesson in my 30s: Run, volunteer, stay busy, treat every Monday through Friday like you're going to work; that way you avoid cannibalizing yourself from the inside out.

Today will mark an addition to this page, a regular "Unemployment Spring" post. Even though I have been horribly inconsistent with "Hippies vs. Punks," I am not giving up on it. I am going to make a stab at a series of posts on The Clash's Combat Rock (1982), a high point for the Punks in the mass media, and high point in my first year of living as an adult on my own -- living off campus as a freshman at the university.

Also, I will be returning to the Where Monsters Dwell posts with issue #16 from July, 1972. Looking at this Bronze Age Marvel reprint series of Silver Age Lee, Kirby and Ditko monster science fiction and horror is all the more timely now that we are experiencing a rebirth of the Cold War. (Stan Lee's Silver Age monster stories were Cold War fables.)

"The Colt 45 Chronicle" will proceed fitfully per usual. The "Unemployment Spring" of 2011, written as it is by the person I am now, a burdened bachelor, should provide some insight into how high the Owl of Minerva flies in 20 years. Who knows, maybe the bird never gets off the ground.

A note on the first few entries: You will notice that the log dates begin in winter and are sporadic until March. I was laid off in March, but I knew it was coming. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters international office was, due to the impact of the Great Recession, consolidating; it did this by wiping out longstanding locals and merging their memberships into a smaller number of new ones. This had the effect of transferring even more power to the international. On the West Coast, this process began in California and then worked its way up to us in Oregon and Washington. No one would tell us when exactly it was going to happen; we just knew it would. I began my log in anticipation of the wipe out soon to come.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
I saw Annie, she the giver of my infection, at the Starbucks this morning. And surprisingly I felt very little. Part of me wanted to approach her and tell her that she made me more sick than I have ever been in my adult life. But she seemed so pathetic hiding under the bill of a baseball cap and reading a Harper's. She looked small and plain and unattractive and paunchy. I didn't want to approach because I didn't want to deal with all of her bullshit. So I got my coffee and left and came home and mopped the kitchen floor. I kept thinking that I should be feeling more, after all, she is the person that led directly to my new dispensation celibate fully mature lifestyle. But other than the feeling that I should be feeling more, I felt nothing.
I now eat simple kid foods exclusively. I refuse to spend any money going out to eat. At the grocery store I buy kielbasa; I buy hamburger; I buy chicken breast. I make spaghetti with meat sauce marinara. I make tacos. I make fried chicken and french fries.
One week until the Super Bowl. No football this weekend. How nice!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Iron Patriot #2

Marvel has a slew of new titles, nearly all of which are impressive. They are being published under the heading "All-New Marvel NOW!" These are tremendous, fresh comic books. The new titles include, to name a few, Charles Soule's She-Hulk, The Punisher by Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads and the gorgeous, stunning Iron Fist: The Living Weapon by Kaare Andrews.

Another standout is Iron Patriot, Marvel's reclamation of the baleful Norman Osborn superhero persona from the Dark Reign cycle (which, if you ask me, is the high point for Marvel of the last six years, an appropriate cap to the Civil War and Secret Invasion crossover events). James Rhodes, a.k.a., Rhodey, Tony Stark's Friday, dons the Iron Patriot armor at the behest of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I have never followed a title that Rhodey appeared in other as a cut-out character, part of a larger super-group. James Rhodes was introduced after I had for the most part given up on reading comic books. He is a manifestation of the late Bronze Age, and one of the defining achievements for Marvel at the time -- his association with Iron Man while Tony Stark struggled with alcoholism, I mean -- along with Frank Miller's rejuvenation of the Daredevil title. Rhodey is most commonly known as War Machine, a more military-oriented Iron Man; he is now played by Don Cheadle in the movies, though I much preferred Terrence Howard in the role.

In any event, Iron Patriot is ably written by the energetic Ales Kot, whose work on Secret Avengers I was impressed with. But the real eye-opener of Iron Patriot is Garry Brown's art and Jim Charalampidis's colors. Below you will find ten scans from Iron Patriot #2. To me, this is fine art. It reminds us of the lesson that art is supposed to impart: "You are free."

Freedom is not a political construct. Freedom is in the mind. Or, put another way, "Prison's in your mind ... Can't you see I'm free?" That's from Charles Manson's statement to the court during the Tate-LaBianca murder trial. Art reminds, or should remind, must aspire to this reminiscence of primordial freedom. In order for civilization to remain vital, to avoid stasis, there must be art. Comic books provide visual art on a mass scale better than any other medium. That is what I am saying.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

One of the Toughest Boxers Ever, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Dead at 59

Matthew Saad Muhammad died on Sunday. His obit appeared in yesterday's paper. He was only 59. Saad Muhammad fought as a light heavyweight, which is the boxing weight class of 168 to 175 lbs. He was probably one of the toughest guys ever to step into the ring.

The video above is from Saad Muhammad's first bout against Marvin Johnson, the July 26, 1977 North American Boxing Federation (NABF) light heavyweight title bout. Saad Muhammad fights as Matthew Franklin, the name the nuns gave him when they found him wandering alone on the street:
Discovered sleeping by nuns on the steps of a church, according to a Philadelphia magazine article, he was named Matthew, after the saint, and Franklin, after the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the road near which he was found. He later lived in foster homes.
If you have some free time, watch this YouTube of Matt Franklin/Saad Muhammad's World Boxing Council (WBC) championship bout against Marvin Johnson.

The video of the WBC title fight is vintage ABC Sports, featuring commentary by Keith Jackson and "Up Close and Personal" features on both fighters. This video offers a glimpse of a time when America still had cohesiveness. The date is April 22, 1979. Professional boxing could boast of some of the best athletes in the world. There was still a working class culture. Black America had yet to be completely decimated by the mass incarceration of the drug wars. This is the world of my adolescence, a world that was gone by the time I reached adulthood.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Detroit Blight Removal Task Force Plan

The Obama administration put together a task force last September to explore how Detroit, the largest municipality to ever declare bankruptcy, might remake itself. The result, Detroit Blight Removal Task Force Plan, was revealed yesterday. Monica Davey summarizes the report's findings in her story, "Detroit Urged to Tear Down 40,000 Buildings":
The blight study, which is perhaps the most elaborate survey of decay conducted in any large America city, found that 30 percent of buildings, or 78,506 of them, scattered across the city’s 139 square miles, are dilapidated or heading that way. It found that 114,000 parcels — about 30 percent of the city’s total — are vacant. And it found that more than 90 percent of publicly held parcels are blighted
All in all, the report provides a remarkably gloomy, block-by-block portrait of the hollowed-out city’s misery and a virtual record of how Detroit’s population, once 1.8 million, has fallen to fewer than half that.
The task force strategy for dealing with Detroit's blight epidemic is demolition. The red in the map below, which appears as a sidebar to the story online, marks a property recommended for demolition.
The price tag for the demolition plan is $850 million. The city has plans to fund $450 million, much of which is contingent upon the bankruptcy process currently underway in federal court; but it is still short $400 million. Bear this in mind as we relaunch the Cold War, stationing troops in former Warsaw Pact countries (not to mention the pivots to Asia and Africa). Then there is the question what to do with all the open space that comes from spending close to $1 billion on demolition:
One question the blight task force report did not answer was what should become of the more than 100,000 empty lots that exist now and the many more that will be left behind with more demolitions. 
For years, some here have contemplated consolidating some of the city’s neighborhoods to allow the city to provide services to a smaller area, more suited to its shrunken population. But the report — named, in part, “Every Neighborhood Has a Future” — takes no stand on the notion of shrinking the city’s footprint.
There are some interesting reader comments attached to Davey's story, like this one from pintoks:
I would like the article to have better addressed the ownership of the abandoned properties. If a house goes into foreclosure, and reverts to the bank, and the bank chooses to not maintain the property, why mustn't the bank pay for the demolition or repairs? Same with abandoned industry: Some entity must hold title and as a result at least some modicum of liability for the condition of the buildings and be required to repair or demolish as required by code...
Or this from Deus02:
As someone who travelled for business to the area frequently from the late sixties going forward, this deterioration was in the making then starting from the riots and the burnings of a much of the city. Symbolically, I suppose, the movement of Motown to California shortly after was the start.
The question has to be asked, is, even when all the abandoned buildings are eliminated, what is the final endgame here? Detroit has always been essentially a one industry town whose time had come but who is going to provide the jobs and do the things necessary to revitalize the city? Where are the plans?
In all my years of travelling back and forth and talking to the local business contacts(the majority of whom lived in the suburbs), frankly, I always got the impression as long as they felt safe, many in their gated communities, they couldn't care less about what happened in the city.
And this one from Dredpiraterobts:
The question is, what are you going to do with all those cooked materials?
40,000 houses equals how much lumber? How many ornate doorways? How much glass? How much "Artisanal" antique, blown, imperfect, uniquely wavy ,thick glass windows? And you're going to just crush then with a backhoe?

The foundation (if you will) of a strong economy is the building and construction trades. It puts many hands to work a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Is Detroit so overemployed that they can't hire hands to demolish these buildings and truck the usable lumber to an abandoned shell that was once a factory for cleaning, storage, restoration and distribution to construction sights or Re-Stores across the nation and the world? Oh, and if that generates some profit, then that's a good thing too isn't it.

Obviously, not every board foot is worth saving, but then it's worth pulping, or it's worth composting.
Look, you can spend $20M on Cat heavy equipment, and if time were of the essence (as it is when you're building) it might make sense to. Or you can spend $20M on manual labor and instead of making solid, old growth beams into splinters you create an employment base. You create an ethos of preservation even in the reality of contraction.

Carbon footprint? Greenhouse gas? How many trees will be saved by reusing Detroit?
A lot of creative things could be done -- open up the plots to urban homesteaders and gardeners; let Occupy try its hand at a socially just reclamation project. There are so many opportunities for regeneration and growth. But with the process in the hands of corporate honchos and government elites, it is inevitable that any solution is going to be privatized, corrupt and providing the tiniest employment footprint as possible.

To the Gray Lady's credit, she has been providing regular coverage of Detroit's bankruptcy, as well as its struggle with post-industrial blight. I've been attempting to keep up with it. I think the story is a time-present encapsulation of U.S. decline. Detroit was the symbol of 20th century -- the American Century! -- U.S. prosperity. I rode the train home one night with a Detroit resident who was visiting Seattle. He was going into downtown to see the sights. I asked him about all the stories of decline, but he didn't seem to think much of them. He was a guy my age who obviously had a good job; he said he like to ride his bike; he looked fit. For him, Detroit was home. And from what I could pick up from him, the blight had been there for a longtime (as Deus02 mentioned, at least since the riots and fires of the late 1960s, and probably earlier), and he was used to it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Colt 45 Chronicle #65

I skimmed this letter several times and was unable to identify to whom it is addressed. Then I started re-typing it, and in the fourth paragraph I notice that I name the addressee. 

Jesse was my wife's cousin, a gentle, intelligent young man a few years my senior. He was an electrical engineer, I believe; either that, or an architect (I can't remember). He grew up in Boston and went to university on the East Coast. He then secured employment in the Bay Area. So by the time his cousin and I were relocating to New York City, he was trading places with us on the West Coast.

Jesse was what you would call a nerd, but a nerd who enjoyed loud Punk music, hot food, and European sports cars. And Jesse was a nerd who liked to drink. We shared several male-bonding experiences, one of which was getting his turbocharged Audi stuck on a snowdrift driving in the mountains of Southern Oregon. As the December light began to fade and we were apprehensively mulling over a nighttime hike of many miles and many hours, a Ford Bronco barreled around the bend and saved the day.

I assume a tone here of masculine truculence, something I affected regularly, fancying myself as I did a street fighter and Lothario. It is a bore. Let me apologize up front.

But these old letters, snatched as they were out of storage during a time of great emotional need -- halftime of the Seahawks 2012 season playoff elimination in Atlanta -- are a testament to a young man's youth, and part of their bounty is the realization that I have never really transcended that level of maturation. For all his bravado and victim complex, that youth is who I remain at the age of 50.

A couple housekeeping items: At the writing of this letter, my first fall out of class since I was old enough to walk, I still had not read any Jack Kerouac. Soon I would ingest On the Road, followed over the next several years by the rest of Kerouac's writings, leaving me something of a Kerouac aficionado. And the last line of this epistle -- "[New York City is] not a place for young people." -- I get all wrong. New York City is the perfect place for a young person. It provides a newly-minted adult the chance to experience the Divine Comedy while his liver is still fresh, his limbs strong and his heart pure.
Autumn 1988 
What the fuck are you doing in the South Bay? Shit, man, you might as well be in L.A., sucking up McDonald's and Wendy's, staring at big lawns and stultified faces. "Go for the Gold" -- get some of that triple-hot chili pepper sauce, swig down a few shots of it, and then march north, either 101 or 880, it don't make any difference. Anyway, I don't know what I'm talking about.
Your primary motivation has got to be hooking up with Ms. Right. Finding that Aphrodite freshly from Olympus dropped, ambrosia on her lips, the one who is going to wash away all worry. She could be right around the next suburban corner, but I doubt it. Collegetown honey is what you're looking for. The 'Furds on the Palo Alto farm are after Average Joe (blank stare and bare horizons) and that you ain't, man. You need something better, something up north, something bright like the star. You gotta remember cigar smoking Sigmund's message about how important Mom and Sis are in mapping your feminine course. And you got some high-class, anti-average geography there, my friend. So shoot for the fucking stars. In the meantime, of course, you could eat a little junk food, take Suzie for a few Coronas and lime slices at the local Carlos Murphy's. The problem here is that you're not like that. You're a noble beast of the old world. Monogamy is the name of your game; so you just might get strapped to some donkey. Up north you'll find that bike-riding, salsa-pounding, shirt-sewing lady you're looking for. Berkeley is an incredible place, like no other; but you know that.
Anyway, sorry for the homesick onslaught. New York is everything you said it'd be -- basically pretty fucking miserable. Subways are great but stink to high heaven and are plenty crowded. I'm working as an assistant editor at a place called the Foundation Center, a foundation set up by other foundations to record and make available all relevant data to the general public. This is strictly a no-growth, no-exit nightmare. Women old enough to be my mother, women who dream about the salads at McDonald's -- they stink up the place. The upper echelon men are genderless boobs -- near-faggot fops -- who also stink up the place. And among all this stench I don't even have the consolation of a healthy income. I'm taking home a pauper's 1.1K a month, which, needless to say, makes toiling 9-to-5 just about a stupidity. New York does have energy though. I like 42nd Street, with all the porno theaters and crack smokers. You walk five blocks checking that out, and boom! You're at New York Public Library (on Fifth Avenue), with the lions and a thousand people eating lunch on its steps. The East Village is something, like Rome two centuries late(r); a lot of drug-taking and crest-fallen youth trying so hard to discover that pasture in the sun it's like going in and partying with a bunch of corpses at a morgue. You get a real drunken edge. Our immediate neighborhood is more like Mexico City than any place in the United States. Great fried food but you get the distinct feeling that you're not on Manhattan (which I like).
I dream about the West, about getting back home. I hate to say it, but people are generally nicer out there. Koch is a fucking homo and everybody knows it. After city and state sales tax, not to mention the general inflatedness of all consumer products here, you're talking about a dollar worth 89 cents. Buying a six pack of talls is like getting the cash together to make a down payment on a house. Shit, California is Eden, and I'm Adam, after the apple and the suit of clothes, sent off somewhere to the east. You made the right call, Jesse, the future is where the sun sets. I'm just hoping that this retrograde motion will be worth something in the future. I just want to be like Janet Evans and say, "There's no substitute for hard work." And then win the gold. But it seems like there's always an excuse. At Berkeley, it was all my friends; here, it's my bullshit job. But in the next place it'll be a new thing. When does the myth of total freedom ever get realized? Kerouac has always, secretly, been my hero without ever having read a single word he's written. Hitting the road, getting gone, doing what you've always felt you should do. Everybody wants to be famous, to have their breath or image recorded for posterity, to be seen on screen, like Mickey Rourke or Madonna, but I don't ever admit it. Coming here, seeing all the secretaries dying on the subway -- women who were once young and beautiful and expectant of life, but who now, beige and blue, are filled with hate and fatigue -- made me cash in the big NYC chip. This is not the place to be. There's something about the West, I don't know what, that excuses it from the kind of fatigue and misery and hopelessness that is trademark here. Here, you have to pay the piper. It's not a place for young people.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Add Thai Coup to Egypt's Last Year -- See What's Coming?

The Sisi coup in Egypt last July represented a turning point. As I said before on this page, I thought a lot of power elite sat up and took note. The trumpeted Arab Spring democracy movement of aspiring youth could be rolled back. All that was required was the requisite amount of ruthlessness.

Today the announcement by Thomas Fuller reporting from Bangkok on the military coup there, "Thailand’s Military Stages Coup, Thwarting Populist Movement," says that the generals in charge have learned their lesson; they're not going to skimp when it comes back to paring back democratic rights:
It was the second time in a decade that the army had overthrown an elected government, but there were signs that this takeover could be more severe and include sharp curbs on Thailand’s freewheeling news media. 
The coup was seen as a victory for the elites in Thailand who have grown disillusioned with popular democracy and have sought for years to diminish the electoral power of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who commands support in the rural north. Unable to win elections, the opposition has instead called for an appointed prime minister, and pleaded with the military for months to step in.
As soldiers spread out throughout Bangkok on Thursday, the generals issued a series of announcements, declaring most of the Constitution “terminated,” banning gatherings of more than five people, imposing a curfew and shutting schools. 
The coup was at least the 12th military takeover since Thailand abandoned the absolute monarchy in 1932. But unlike many previous coups, which involved infighting among generals, Thursday’s military takeover had as a subtext the political awakening among rural Thais who have loyally supported Mr. Thaksin and benefited from patronage and policies such as universal health care and microloans.
After deposing Mr. Thaksin in 2006, the generals put in place an administration that was widely seen as a failure. 
“The lesson they learned the last time was that the medicine they prescribed after the coup was not strong enough,” said Thongchai Winichakul, a former student activist in Thailand who is now a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin. “There’s a high possibility of very drastic measures and suppression this time.”
In the same national edition of the Gray Lady today there is more information of the extent of the national security state monitoring the Occupy Wall Street protest movement of fall 2011, "Officials Cast Wide Net in Monitoring Occupy Protests":
[C]ommunications, distributed by people working with counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing offices known as fusion centers, were among about 4,000 pages of unclassified emails and reports obtained through freedom of information requests by lawyers who represented Occupy participants and provided the documents to The New York Times. They offer details of the scrutiny in 2011 and 2012 by law enforcement officers, federal officials, security contractors, military employees and even people at a retail trade association. The monitoring appears similar to that conducted by F.B.I. counterterrorism officials, which was previously reported.
The U.S. political system is just about as completely captured as one can imagine. There is occasionally a spot of sunshine, like the vote the other day in Jackson County, OR to ban GMOs. But on the national level, nothing of the sort.

An Occupy movement is going to have to reappear to rejuvenate the system. Know that when it does there will be "no more water but fire next time."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Brooks Considers Thai Solution for U.S.

The political impasse in Thailand has been frozen in place today. The military announced that it was taking power. Thomas Fuller has the story, "Thai Army Declares Coup, Citing Need to ‘Reform’ Nation":
BANGKOK — Two days after declaring martial law the Thai military on Thursday seized full control of the country, the second time in a decade that the army has overthrown an elected government. 
The military, which had invited political leaders Thursday for a second day of talks on how to resolve the country’s political deadlock detained the meeting participants instead. The head of the army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha then announced the coup on national television, saying it was “necessary to seize power.” 
Mr. Prayuth said the coup was launched “in order to bring the situation back to normal quickly” and to “reform the political structure, the economy and the society.”
Six months of debilitating protests in Thailand have centered on whether to hold elections. The governing party dissolved Parliament in December in an attempt to defuse the crisis and set the election for February. The opposition Democrat Party, which has not won a national election since 1992, refused to take part. Protesters called for an appointed prime minister and blockaded polling stations, leading to a court ruling that the election was unconstitutional.
The country’s democracy was in deadlock.
This has been a long time coming. The speculation has always been why the shyness from the Thai Army. I bring up the Thai coup this morning because of how nicely it dovetails with a David Brooks column published Monday, "The Big Debate." In it Brooks floats a proposal that is identical to the key demand of the Bangkok-based protest movement that has stymied the populist Shinawatra government -- small groups of appointed elites ruling by fiat:
At the national level, American politics has become neurotically democratic. Politicians are campaigning all the time and can scarcely think beyond the news cycle. Legislators are terrified of offending this or that industry lobby, activist group or donor faction. Unrepresentative groups have disproportionate power in primary elections. 
The quickest way around all this is to use elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms. 
The process of change would be unapologetically elitist. Gather small groups of the great and the good together to hammer out bipartisan reforms — on immigration, entitlement reform, a social mobility agenda, etc. — and then rally establishment opinion to browbeat the plans through. But the substance would be anything but elitist. Democracy’s great advantage over autocratic states is that information and change flow more freely from the bottom up. Those with local knowledge have more responsibility.
If the Guardian State’s big advantage is speed at the top, democracy’s is speed at the bottom. So, obviously, the elite commissions should push proposals that magnify that advantage: which push control over poverty programs to local charities; which push educational diversity through charter schools; which introduce more market mechanisms into public provision of, say, health care, to spread power to consumers.
If it turns out that the Tea Party backbenchers are too unruly to govern when the GOP controls the White House and the Senate as well as the House, know that the Thai solution is being seriously considered.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Russia Signs 30-Year Gas Deal With China: Let the Decline and Fall of American Global Hegemony Commence Posthaste

Jane Perlez reported yesterday from Beijing that  the China-Russia gas deal was stalled. This morning she reports that the deal is done, "China and Russia Reach Major 30-Year Gas Deal":
BEIJING — China and Russia agreed to a major 30-year natural gas deal on Wednesday that would send gas from Siberia by pipeline to China, according to the China National Petroleum Corporation. 
The announcement caps a decade-long negotiation and helps bring Russia and China closer than they have been in many years. The contract was driven to a conclusion by the presence of President Xi Jinping of China and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Shanghai for the last two days. 
The notice posted on China National Petroleum’s website said that beginning in 2018, Russia would supply 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year to China. China will build the pipeline within its own borders, while Russia will be responsible for the development of the fields and pipeline construction in its territory, the notice said.
This is an enormous blow to American unipolarism. Development will flow east. The BRICS will continue to surge. Europe will gradually decouple from the U.S. (For all these points, see the Pepe Escobar essay linked to in yesterday's post.)

Domestically, the United States is headed for a realignment. The Democratic Party is going to suffer a substantial defeat in November. The only question is if it is going to rise to the level of the 2010 midterm. The political system is headed for either collapse or renewal. The renewal would have to come from a third party renaissance or a complete overhaul of the duopoly by trustworthy, charismatic leadership.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Russia-China Gas Deal Stalled Over Price

Today offers a rare example of the Gray Lady publishing a story that completely confirms an article published on a left-of-center, anti-imperialist web site. The story is today's "Ukraine Crisis Pushing Putin Toward China" by Neil MacFarquhar and Davids Herszenhorn; the article it confirmed is Pepe Escobar's "Who's Pivoting Where in Eurasia?" which appeared this past Sunday afternoon on

Russia and China according to RT News are about to conclude a long-term gas deal:
Russia and China are due to sign a long-awaited gas contract on Tuesday, in which Beijing could pay up to $456 billion for Russian gas over the next 30 years. 
While Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Shanghai on May 20-21, Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) are due to sign a deal for 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas to power China's growing economy, starting in 2018.
But this morning, Jane Perlez, reporting for the Gray Lady from Beijing, says that there is no deal, "China and Russia Fail to Reach Agreement on Gas Plan." The two countries could not agree on a price.

MacFarquhar and Herszenhorn had reported in their story that price, a barrier to any deal for a long time, was likely to be settled in favor of China since Russia was eager to show the North Atlantic Alliance that it had other avenues of development than the Western financial system. Escobar was convinced that it was a done deal, part of a BRICS-initiated paradigm shift.

I interpret yesterday's DOJ indictments of PLA hackers as a publicity stunt meant as a warning for China not to launch an attack on the status quo.

The deal might still come off.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hard Drive Fried + The Coming Asia Pivot

A quick post here to say that this page will be updated only sporadically for the next week, maybe every other day.

My hard drive died early Sunday morning. I spent the small hours trying to restore operations and was successful in getting the PC, now four-years old, to boot. I was then a performed a disk backup before another crash. One more successful boot allowed me to transfer to Amazon Cloud Player the music I had added to my iTunes library in the last couple of weeks. Then the final crash came.

I considered hopping on the bus and going up to the Northgate shopping center and picking up a brand new box. But I was beat from being up since 1:30 AM and doing three loads of laundry which required numerous trips up and down three flights of a stairs with a left foot that I am diagnosing as suffering from tendonitis. So I decided to enjoy a quiet day reading on my mattress on the floor. The time was 11:00 AM.

I did make one call to the big local PC repair/re-manufacture store. But they were closed. I had a couple of mailers from Dell that have been sitting on my kitchen table for over a month. Knowing for a long time (since last fall) that there was something wrong with my hard drive, I have been intending to get either a Dell laptop, a Google Chromebook, or a tablet of some sort to have around as a backup. My problem is that I don't like shopping. So I put it off.

Now, at work this morning, I went ahead and made a quick decision to purchase a relatively inexpensive Dell Inspiron 15.6" laptop. I should have it by Thursday.

Having the cyber umbilical severed yesterday brought home, clearly and conclusively, how much I am tethered to the Internet. Matrix-like, I am usually plugged in, pouring out what little qi I have -- any that doesn't get slurped up by the rat race -- by tapping out my pitiful impressions. It is a flat, obsessive world with very little air. I wish I could say that I was unusual, a lone madman unrepresentative of the mass of humanity in our current body politic. But I am afraid my kind is all too common.

I am looking forward to being offline more.

There was a good story this morning by Floyd Whaley, "A Leviathan Turns Philippine Fishermen Into Desperate Darters," about China asserting its dominance over Scarborough Shaol in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claim the reef, which happens to be a rich fishing ground. The Filipino town of Masinloc has been hard hit since the Chinese Coast Guard showed up two years ago and started blocking  access.

The full impact of the story hit me at the end:
While the town hopes to regain access to the shoal, Mayor Edora has taken other steps to try to help the fishermen. She has worked with the national government to provide them with artificial reefs that can be anchored to the ocean floor to attract fish, but she said the so-called aggregators had attracted far fewer fish than the natural reef. 
“That area is ours,” said Mr. Escape, the fisheries officer. “But the Chinese are strong, so they can do what they like. We are weak, so there is nothing we can do.” 
Tolomeo Forones, Mario’s brother and a part-time fisherman himself, said the solution was clear: Bring back American bases. He noted that when the United States military maintained bases in the Philippines, the Chinese Coast Guard was never seen near the country. 
In the short term, that looks unlikely. The United States and the Philippines recently forged a deal that would establish military facilities — mostly on the coastlines facing China — that are expected to host large American warships and possibly squadrons of United States fighter jets. But it could take several years to get those facilities up and running. 
Tolomeo Forones said he felt that the best chance for his weaker nation to stand up to China had been squandered years ago, when the Philippines in the 1990s ejected the Americans from their former naval base at Subic Bay, just 70 miles south of Masinloc. 
“If Subic was still a U.S. Navy base, those Chinese would not be there,” Mr. Forones said. “Now that the Americans have moved out, the Chinese have claimed our islands. They aren’t afraid of our navy. They only laugh at us.”
As the U.S. pivots to Africa, here is evidence of its Asia pivot. With a frontpage story of the DOJ charging Chinese PLA personnel with espionage (there is also the Eurasia pivot underway in Ukraine), know that, if you are an American, you are going to be expected to pay for a perpetual, fully global military mobilization. The price is going to be the further erosion of what remains of the social safety net along with what little hope there is in the United States of democratic renewal.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nihilism #5

The problem with nihilism -- its Achilles' heel -- is the past. The past exists as a real other -- a god -- that is part of the self. All is not merely limitless striving.

There is an object of consciousness. One exists. It is not timeless. It is time-bound. It is the past. It usually reveals itself to me via music. Schopenhauer thought music was pure spirit.

This morning suffering through a long run, my left foot giving me trouble in form of a strained arch, a song from Mike Johnson's doleful Year of Mondays (1996) shuffled on my iPod. Hearing "Eclipse" I was transported back to the downhill slope of the Age of Grunge. The spirit world confronting me inside my mind was a recollection of a torpid time of futon lounging, book devouring and living underground, on the run from everyone and myself.

Then there was yesterday at work. For some reason I decided to YouTube Blake Babies. Sunburn (1990) popped up. Sunburn is one of those albums that will never be given the credit that it deserves in terms of creating the Age of Grunge. Sunburn represents an approach to the peak of Grunge. Mammoth Records Grunge-Pop.

I saw Blake Babies perform at CBGBs. It was 1991. The summer I devotedly listened to Rosy Jack World (1991). Rosy Jack World and the summer of 1991 -- this represents the summit for Grunge. Think Pearl Jam's Ten (1991) and, at the end of summer/beginning of fall, Nirvana's Nevermind (1991).

To end their CBGBs set that night, Blake Babies did a cover of Neil Young's "Barstool Blues." A diehard Zuma fan, I went berserk, shouting along exuberantly, gesticulating wildly. If only you could have seen Juliana Hatfield that night! She anchored the band from the lip of the stage. With her bass strapped on over a plain white t-shirt, Hatfield was the apotheosis of the real cool. Now, after crossing an ocean of time, that might seem impossible. But that night it was unquestionable.

I had not listened to Blake Babies in a long, long time. But when I heard Sunburn yesterday, it all came back. The past is alive inside of us. As I said, this is a problem for nihilism.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Industrial Workers Control Mariupol: Part PR, Part Preparation for Presidential Poll

Yesterday afternoon on its web site the New York Times headlined a story by Andrew Kramer reporting from Mariupol about a stunning turnabout for the pro-federalization forces occupying the eastern Ukrainian port city. Steelworkers and miners working for companies owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov dispersed "pro-Russian militants," removing with heavy equipment barricades set up around town and establishing regular foot patrols. The story ledes the "newspaper of record" this morning.

Here is how Kramer opens "Workers Seize City in Eastern Ukraine From Separatists":
MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region’s second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants.

While it was still far too early to say the tide had turned in eastern Ukraine, the day’s events were a blow to separatists who recently seized control here and in a dozen or so other cities and who held a referendum on independence on Sunday. Backed by the Russian propaganda machine and by 40,000 Russian troops just over the border, their grip on power seemed to be tightening every day.
The third paragraph gives Kramer away. He is engaged in tendentious reporting here. If you scan Google News this morning you'll struggle to find one link to the Gray Lady's blue-collar-Mariupol-liberation bombshell. Read to the end of the article and what jumps out is that the meat of the story is built out of quotes delivered up by chief executives of Metinvest, Yuri Ryzhenkov, and Ilyich Steel Works, Yuri Zincheko. Kramer doesn't bother with one quote from a routed pro-federalization occupier.

So you have the boss's point of view blasted far and wide "in all the news that is fit to print." This is pure public relations, inspired no doubt by the success of the People's Republic of Donetsk poll last Sunday. This is the Kiev junta's riposte, a way of saying, "See, we really have the hearts and minds of the people of the east, not the 'terrorists' and their Russian handlers."

One must be mindful here of the history of the Central Intelligence Agency using sectors of the industrialized work force to carry out its agenda. Mossadegh in Iran, Allende in Chile, Chavez in Venezuela -- all were destabilized in part by militant labor actions. There is no reason to believe that what is happening in Mariupol is any different. We know that Brennan is taking a hands-on role in the response to the uprising in Donbass.

It is too early to tell how this will play out. If you read the Kramer story closely you come away with the opinion that the miners and steelworkers employed by Akhmetov are doing what they are told. They are not operating zealously. I think this is a way for Kiev/Washington to stabilize the east prior to the May 25 presidential election. The junta and their backers in the Obama administration want that election to come off without a hitch.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kiev Junta Makes Sham of OSCE Talks. Expect More of the Same.

Based on its reporting of the last few days, a shift appears to be underway at the New York Times. No longer is there complete unquestioned fealty to the Obama administration line that everything bad currently happening in Ukraine is due to Russian aggression against a peaceful democratic people yearning to be free of that evil Rasputin Putin.

Take this morning's story by David Herszenhorn, "Talks on Ukraine Crisis Open in Kiev Without Representation for Separatists." Herszenhorn makes clear that the Kiev junta is not bargaining in good faith:
Senior Ukrainian officials and leading public figures opened talks here on Wednesday that they portrayed as an effort to end the country’s six-month-old political crisis, but the provisional Ukrainian government offered little compromise and there was no one present directly representing the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine
Officials said the negotiating effort would continue with a session on Saturday in the embattled eastern city of Donetsk. 
Pro-Russian leaders in the east reacted dismissively, saying they were not invited to participate in the so-called round-table talks, while officials connected to the region who did attend urged the government to develop concrete proposals that could be presented at the next meeting. 
Oleksandr Yefremov, a member of Parliament from Luhansk, urged the provisional government to put forward solid initiatives. “I really would like to see all the officials who are now represented by the acting president and prime minister come to the round table, come with some proposals and not just slogans,” Mr. Yefremov said. “We have to give answers.” 
While some officials from the east, like Mr. Yefremov, attended the talks, the provisional government in Kiev had vowed not to negotiate with the leaders of the masked gunmen, whom they refer to as “terrorists” and “killers.” As a result there were no representatives of the separatist factions, who are crucial to reaching an accord that might resolve the crisis. 
Mr. Yefremov, in his opening remarks, said he expected more of a presence from his region, and he complained that the talks had opened with sharp words by a leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Filaret, blaming Russia for the crisis. 
“I am surprised that nobody is here from Luhansk,” he said, “and I also don’t understand why we start our dialogue with morality.” He added, “We have people who think differently, who have different culture, and we have a responsibility to create a state that corresponds to the needs of our people.”
Herszenhorn quotes Donetsk's junta-appointed governor, oligarch Sergei Taruta, saying the obvious: there is no support for the coup government in the east. The billionaire knows which way the wind blows. He wants to maintain the size of his fortune, something not possible if the junta sticks with its absolutist position:
Sergei A. Taruta, the billionaire governor of Donetsk, another embattled eastern region, also attended the talks, which were held in the Parliament building and featured two former presidents of Ukraine as well as religious leaders. While the negotiations were billed as round-table talks, the table itself was oblong in shape. 
Mr. Taruta warned that there was genuine opposition in the east, known collectively as Donbass. “The majority of Donbass population is for Ukraine’s unity, but at the same time against the current authorities in Kiev,” he said. 
The acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, was among the first to speak on Wednesday, and he reiterated a promise to fight graft and urged unity. But he made no particular outreach to the besieged eastern regions where separatist leaders on Sunday held referendums that they said showed broad public support for seceding from Ukraine. 
“To fight corruption and provide people with jobs is our main task,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said. “And that will unite our country.”
Yatsenyuk does nothing without consultation with his U.S. masters. And the U.S. position apparently is -- no surprise here -- to stage-manage a display of "good faith" talks under the auspices of the OSCE, floating phony federalization-lite proposals (what the junta labels "decentralization") that go no further than offering more regional control of tax receipts, all the while terrorizing the civilian population of Donbass with a mercenary-directed Ukrainian national guard and lining up the rubber-stamp acceptance by Europe of the May 25 presidential election.

The United States is not looking for a reasonable solution to the impasse. It wants control of east by Kiev, and short of that it wants war. There is no indication so far of anything else. We'll see how the next round of talks goes. I would assume, based on a turn to more reality-based reporting by the Gray Lady, that the junta will be under pressure to be more inclusive in its public relations, particularly since opinion in Europe is growing more estranged from the putschists. But the U.S. is still running the show. And there is a great deal of arrogance in its conduct. So expect no substantive changes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Portland Sonic Morning

As mentioned previously, there is something wrong with my hard drive. So every time my computer goes to sleep after a period of inactivity, rather than going into sleep mode it crashes. This creates problems in the operating system. I avoid the problem by keeping my Amazon Cloud Player up and running at all times, merely switching off my Harman Kardon speakers when I leave the apartment in the morning for work, and when I go to bed at night.

Besides the advantage of avoiding damaging crashes, keeping a large library of music constantly playing offers up the opportunity for random insight, reflection and appreciation.

This morning, for no reason in particular, I decided to stay in bed instead of getting up and reading the newspaper.

When I finally did rise for that first cup of coffee, I switched on the Harman Kardons and was greeted by Sleater-Kinney's "#1 Must Have," a song off All Hands on the Bad One (2000). Of the last three records put out by Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One is definitely the weakest. It is not a bad album. It is just that One Beat (2002) and The Woods (2005) are so strong.

Following "#1 Must Have" came Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "1% of One," which is probably my favorite song by the group. A nine-plus minute masterpiece, "1% of One" can be found on Pig Lib (2003). I see that Malkmus and the Jicks have a new album out, Wig Out at Jagbags (2014). I'll have to give it a listen.

Both bands hail(ed) from Portland, OR.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Good Fortune + Comparing "Agboju Logun" to "I Zimbra"

Some good news to report from earlier this morning. I managed to catch the bus right as it pulled into the stop this morning. Normally such an accomplishment would require a huge outlay of effort and stress. You can spy from the skyway that spans both the Interstate and International Boulevard the southbound 'A' as it lumbers down the many-laned, broad-backed black Macadam of Pacific Highway; and when you see it, you immediately break into a sprint, rampaging down four flights of stairs, usually with several other transit riders in tow, before risking life and limb by hurling yourself headlong into hurtling, morning-commute Pac Highway traffic.

But this morning for some reason I didn't really look too hard to see if the bus was coming when I walked across the skyway. When I got to the stairs at the eastern end of the skyway, I took them with some pepper in my step but nothing out of the ordinary. Then when I got to street level and saw the 'A' pull into the bus stop across the highway, miraculously there was no traffic. So I had a clear sprint across all six lanes. Still, even given a clear path, I thought the bus was going to pull out. It doesn't take long to board four to five riders, which is usually the number that get on that stop at 8:15 AM. But when I made it across the highway and got to the passenger side of the bus, I saw that there was a line eight-people deep waiting to board. I tapped my electronic pass at the card reader to the north side of the bus shelter and entered the 'A' through open doors at the rear. If you're a commuter, you'll understand; it's like a hole-in-one or a bullseye.

Listen to the track above, "Agboju Logun," by Shina Williams & His African Percussionists -- it can be found on Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970’s Funky Lagos (2001/2009). Originally, I thought that Talking Heads' "I Zimbra" was a total rip off of "Agboju Logun." But then I realized that Talking Heads recorded "I Zimbra" five years earlier. ("I Zimbra" is recorded in 1979; "Agboju Logun," 1984.) So much for that theory. Anyhow, I do think it is safe to say that Fear of Music (1979) owes a lot to African rock of the 1970s.

Russia/Germany Work for Peace, U.S Wants War

The crisis in Ukraine has for the most part hogged the news since the end of last November. There was a lull after Putin bailed out Yanukovych by buying Ukrainian bonds and reducing the price of Gazprom's gas. Then protests fired up again on the Maidan, leading eventually to ascension of the neo-Nazis and Yanukovych skipping town. That was toward the end of February, February 21 to be exact. Since then it has pretty much been all Ukraine all the time. Crimea quickly broke off after the February putsch and joined the Russian Federation. For the last several months, the Ukraine's industrial east, the historically pro-Russian, Russian-speaking portion of the country has been the site of Maidan-like uprisings, culminating in Sunday's vote in favor of self rule by People's Republic of Donetsk. That's where we are.

Russia acknowledged the vote but called for negotiations:
This time, the Kremlin issued a statement saying only that it “respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” and that the crisis should be resolved through dialogue between representatives of the easterners and the national government in Kiev.
That is from Neil MacFarquhar's "Russia Keeps Its Distance After Ukraine Secession Referendums." Though People’s Republic of Donetsk Denis Pushilin announced that his province wants to accede to the Russian Federation, Putin's strategy is based on working with Germany through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to get parties back to the bargaining table to deal with the only workable solution for a viable Ukrainian state -- federalization and neutrality; in other words, the sensible proposal that Russia has been floating all along.

Alison Smale, reporting from Berlin, talks about German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's trip to Kiev today to try to get the junta to negotiate:
Mr. Steinmeier met the acting prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, in Kiev and had plans to travel on to Odessa on the Black Sea, where a horrific fire killed some 40 people earlier this month, German diplomats said. 
“We support your efforts to launch a national dialogue, under Ukrainian ownership, here in your country, through round tables, at the central level and in the regions,” Mr. Steinmeier told a joint news conference with Mr. Yatsenyuk, Reuters reported. 
The trip was Mr. Steinmeier’s third to the country since February, when he and his French and Polish counterparts brokered an accord between demonstrators and President Viktor F. Yanukovych that fell apart when Mr. Yanukovych was ousted [by neo-Nazis] and fled the country for southern Russia. 
Germany has repeatedly pushed for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine while insisting that it would support tougher sanctions if Russia either invades or obstructs a scheduled presidential vote on May 25. Above all, German politicians have made clear, they seek an elected figure to deal with in Kiev. 
Mr. Steinmeier is also promoting a proposal to get the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Europe and the United States as well as Ukraine and Russia, involved in disarming separatists, promoting dialogue and overseeing a free and fair election. 
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has assured his support, although Russia has also pledged to respect the referendums in eastern Ukraine that were condemned as illegal by the authorities in Kiev and by the West. 
Berlin has asked the veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, a former ambassador to the United States who now runs an annual security conference held in Munich each February, to coordinate a series of “round tables” intended to bring together all sections of Ukrainian society under the O.S.C.E. proposal. 
The terminology being used harks back to 1989, when Poland’s Communist rulers met representatives of the trade union Solidarity, and to the time when the Communists who ruled East Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up, met dissidents. But German media questioned whether there is in Ukraine today even that minimum of national consensus that existed in Soviet bloc countries then.
Germany is the key here. Russia is working with Germany to avoid a Ukrainian civil war which would lead to a failed state that The Saker has dubbed "Banderastan." Working against peace is the United States. As in Syria, the U.S. prefers cracking a state open with non-stop violence. To get a sense of how this looks in the city of Slovyansk, read today's offering by C.J. Chivers and Noah Sneider, "In One Eastern City, Ukrainians Find Battle Hits Too Close to Home." The Ukrainian military is lobbing 120-mm mortars into neighborhoods:
Roughly midway through an hourlong gunfight that began just after midnight Sunday, six high-explosive mortar rounds narrowly missed the home of Yevgeny Kharkovsky and his wife, exploding around them on Yuzhnaya Street. 
One hit a few feet from their home’s east side. Another hit near the south side of the wall of their shed. A third landed on the shed roof. A fourth hit beside a row of beehives. Two more landed in their neighbor’s yard, blasting out windows there and at the next house down.
No one was wounded by the 120-millimeter shells that seemed to originate from a Ukrainian military position a little more than a mile to the southeast. But the near misses demonstrated a very real danger of the government’s effort to crack down on rebels controlling this city. Change the angle of a round’s descent, add or subtract a few yards, and one might have hit squarely on a house, killing civilians and igniting the kind of sustained fighting that has so far remained only a fear. 
“I couldn’t believe that there were explosions in my yard,” Mr. Kharkovsky said Monday, as intermittent gunfire could be heard at the nearby government position, where soldiers have been dug in for 10 days. Crossing himself slowly, Mr. Kharkovsky said he and his wife, Galina Kharkovskaya, had been lucky. He had been struck only by flying glass as windows were blown in. 
The close call on Yuzhnaya Street signaled a dangerous turn in the turmoil in eastern Ukraine.
Where is the outrage from Obama and Kerry? Remember during the major Maidan clashes in February they regularly scolded Yanukovych for allowing his security forces the use of weapons. Here, not a peep, when the coup government uses heavy weapons on civilians in their own homes. These people are not even protesting or violating a curfew; they're in their owns homes tending to their bees and their gardens.

It is obscene. Such hypocrisy does lasting damage to a state. Barack Obama is hollowing out the Democratic Party. It is going to be a tough row to hoe on down the line.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Voting in Donbass a Success, U.S. Cries Foul

Much to the chagrin of the junta in Kiev and their backers in Western capitals, Sunday's referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk on greater autonomy from the coup government, despite a few instances, one fatal, of junta-initiated criminal violence, went well, really better than anticipated. Andrew Kramer and Alan Cowell report this morning in "Kiev Condemns Separatist Vote as Russia Offers Modest Support":
In Donetsk, the chairman of the central election committee of the separatist government, Roman Lyagin, said the preliminary results showed that “about 90 percent” of voters supported regional autonomy, but he added that a final count would take about a week because of difficulties in collecting ballots. The preliminary count, he told journalists, showed 89.07 percent in favor of self-rule and 10.19 percent opposed, while just under one percent of the ballots were filled out incorrectly or damaged.
In Luhansk, a deputy director of the election committee told the Russian news agency Interfax that 95.98 percent of voters wanted self-rule for the region and that turnout was 81 percent.
The first reports filed yesterday by Kramer were overwhelmingly positive. Then the final story posted shifted to accentuate the negative, "Ukraine Vote on Separation Held in Chaos." What that headline does not clarify is that the chaos, what there was of it, was created by the Ukrainian national guard. The last we time we heard from them they were terrorizing with tanks and APCs peaceful parade-goers in Mariupol on Friday.

Kramer goes out of his way to create the impression that significant numbers, possibly a majority, of voters in eastern Ukraine stayed home rather than participate in Sunday's referendum. This is based on the oft-repeated results of a recent Pew poll:
The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk are predominantly Russian-speaking rather than Ukrainian-speaking, and in past elections they have tended to back pro-Russian politicians. But that does not mean that most people there want to secede from Ukraine. A poll by the Pew Research Center released this month indicated that 70 percent of respondents in eastern Ukraine favored keeping the country united, while only 18 percent favored secession; the remainder were undecided. 
The referendums demonstrated that there was substantial popular support for the pro-Russian separatists in some areas. But it offered no reliable gauge of the breadth of that support. It was not clear whether long voting lines had formed because few polling places were open, or because turnout was running high.
A couple things about this Pew poll. For one, notice that its 70 percent in favor of a united Ukraine does not necessarily exclude a yes vote in favor of the question asked yesterday, "Do you support the act of self-rule for the People's Republic of Donetsk?" Federalization of Ukraine could encompass self-rule by the regions. Secondly, as Moon of Alabama makes clear this morning, "Ukraine: Serious Media Largely Confirm Donetsk Poll Results," the Pew poll was conducted before the Odessa massacre Friday before last where 40 pro-federalization protesters were chased into a trade union building and burned alive and this past Friday's slaughter in Mariupol of innocent bystanders.

The Obama administration response to the Donbass plebiscite? Outright rejection:
A State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the United States would not recognize the results of the referendums, whatever they were. She said they were “illegal under Ukrainian law, and are an attempt to create further division and disorder.”
Echoed by the British poodle Hague:
Speaking in Brussels, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said of the votes in eastern Ukraine: “These attempts at referendums have zero credibility in the eyes of the world. They are illegal by anybody’s standards.”
Those who have zero credibility in the eyes of the world are the NATO powers. More cosmetic sanctions directed at Russia are likely. What the U.S. and its European toadies are attempting to elide here is the obvious fact that people of the Donbass do not want to have anything to do with the coup regime in Kiev. This is not going to change. No amount of U.S.-prompted violence is going to alter the primary "facts on the ground." The United States should be ushering the parties to the negotiating table. But we know from experience that a rogue hyper-power addicted to violence is not going to make such a move. So we are back to the failed state scenario, a U.S. specialty.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nihilism #4

I headed out this morning before eight to get four miles in. I was little stiff from yesterday's Lake Union Loop. I'm making an effort get some strength back since I have a 10K in two weeks. On the the way home I ran into a woman I dated briefly four-plus years ago, the one who set me on my current celibate path of burdened bachelorhood. She set me on the path because she was not only insane, or borderline insane, but I also contracted an infection from her. I had to take a serious time out and analyze why I was always getting into relationships with women that made me miserable, plain and simple.

The interaction itself this morning was pleasant. I told her she looked good, and that I appreciated what she was trying to tell me back when we spent time together (basically, that I shouldn't get involved with her). We caught up a little on what her daughters were doing, where she was working, where I was working, etc. She suggested that we should get together for dinner some time. I said sure (thinking, absolutely not). She said, "Give me a hug." I complied, touching her cheek with the sweaty, stubbly cheek of my own. And, with that complete, I was off down the street.

I was authentically without ressentiment. Previously, maybe a couple years ago, I imagined that if I ever ran into her I would say, "You know, that filthy snatch of yours really fucked me up." But in the end, I felt almost nothing seeing her again.

One crystal clear message I received from my time with her was that the only thing people want from you is that you be strong. This is a pillar of nihilism, as mentioned in Nihilism #3: Strength is all there is.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"How Am I Different": A Bachelorette Manifesto

Road racing season is upon us. It would probably be more appropriate to call them "fun runs." But they're timed, and a lot of people take them seriously. The last two weeks I have completed 5Ks in times that are some of my poorer efforts in the last four years. It's my lack of training due to an onerous daily work commute.

I'm maintaining a minimal level of fitness, which I consider to be the ability to run three miles in eight-minute-per-mile pace. But since the last two weekends I've been running 5Ks, I haven't been able to work in my baseline 8-mile Lake Union Loop. This morning was my first time running the loop in three weeks. It started well. But after the outward-bound half, I became quite meek. Then on the final steep climb up Capitol Hill back home, I found myself resorting to the old-man shuffle. Fortunately, I received a sonic boost from Bettye LaVette. Her cover of Aimee Mann's "How Am I Different" shuffled on the iPod, giving me the physical courage to finish with a little bit of dignity.

What a manifesto this song is!
I've got one more question
                  Before I pack
When you fuck it up later
                  Do I get my money back?
I wish every bachelorette would listen to LaVette's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise (2005). I think she would be more confident in her solitariness.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Cat Power Victory Day

I have always been a Cat Power fan, from the time I heard Chan Marshall sing "Nude as the News" on college radio. But this morning, interrupted from my normal ritual because of technology problems, I was reminded of her song "Maybe Not":

May 9 is Victory Day in Russia. Browsing these old videos on YouTube of Cat Power appearing on Letterman in the aughts, and seeing how beautiful and Slavic Chan Marshall looks, why not a peek at "Metal Heart"?

But my favorite Cat Power record is You Are Free (2003). It sums up where I was at in 2003.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ukraine, Another U.S.-Facilitated Failed State

Yesterday's announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that troops were being pulled back from the Ukrainian border and that he was asking the anti-Maidan protesters occupying public buildings in eastern Ukraine to delay their referendum on autonomy from the junta in Kiev has already been cast off both by Western leaders and the Donetsk People's Republic. C.J. Chivers and David Herszenhorn have the story this morning, "Separatists in Ukraine Vow to Proceed with Autonomy Vote":
Antigovernment rebels in eastern Ukraine said on Thursday that they would proceed with a referendum this weekend seeking autonomy, even though President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday had appeared to withdraw his support for the vote. 
“The referendum will be held on May 11,” said Miroslav Rudenko, the co-chairman of the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as the rebels call their political wing, according to Interfax, a Russian state-controlled news service. 
The announcement is likely to revive tensions between the interim government in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and the armed rebels who have seized terrain and buildings in parts of eastern Ukraine, including Donetsk.
My first reaction yesterday was disappointment when I saw the headlines of what appeared to be a retreat by Putin in the face of U.S.-orchestrated aggression. But that was an automatic gut reaction. This is all high stakes stuff nowadays. We are present at the creation (or recreation) of a new paradigm. I checked my head and realized that Putin knows something of course that we news consumers do not. Based on a reasoned appraisal of the facts on the ground Putin now feels that the Ukrainian military cannot control the Donbass. So it was his opportunity to appear magisterial.

That the U.S. immediately cast doubt on the overture is proof of something we already know well, that the Obama administration is locked in with its support of the Kiev junta. This is extremely unwise. The junta is inherently unstable, composed as it is of old school Fatherland Party oligarchs and far right neo-Nazi populists. We can see from our own U.S. Congressional majority, with its Tea Party patriots and Club for Growth plutocrat mouthpieces, how dysfunctional such national leadership can be. The only reasonable expectation going forward is that Ukraine is going to be a failed state. Whether as chaotic and broken as Libya or Syria remains to be seen, but that is the direction.

I will say once again, Obama's "Asia pivot," meant for the East and South China Seas, has ended up instead on the fertile soil of Ukraine (with its 15 nuclear reactors), the land bridge connecting Europe to Russia. An "Asia pivot" was necessary because the wars of the Greater Middle East were becoming too hard a sell, both in terms of the maintaining the fiction that Al Qaeda was an existential threat to the homeland rather than an ally and the cost of keeping a large number of boots on the ground in Afghanistan. What was needed was an old-fashioned Cold War against a predictable, stable adversary. The advantages here are plenty of pork for the military-industrial complex and a global order that would maintain American hegemony and keep a multi-polar world at bay.

But the world has changed in many ways since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is no trust, no allegiance to the Western governments from the populations that they rule. Obama, the Obama phenomenon, represents an end of the line. He bamboozled not only voters in the U.S. but Europe as well. Either a new, non-aligned, non-fascistic (the danger here is always fascism or corporate populism) truly representative political force enters the scene, or the political structure begins a rapid disintegration.