Monday, November 30, 2015

Terrorism in Paris, Colorado Springs and Libya

For a good overview of the shortcomings of any agreement likely to emerge from the climate conference taking place in Paris this week, what is being called COP21, consult Andreas Malm's "Our Fight for Survival."

One of the items in Malm's essay that jumped out at me was the duplicity of the French government in banning the large climate justice protests but leaving in place the big gatherings for shopping and sporting events:
Although it is not nearly as large or powerful as it needs to be, the climate movement today is a force to be reckoned with, a sprawling tent of groups capable of scoring such victories as pushing Shell out of the Arctic and killing the Keystone XL pipeline. 
It is that force that has now been taken off the streets of Paris. 
Why? Security concerns in the wake of the terror are at most secondary. If the French state wanted to safeguard the demonstrations — thereby guaranteeing the type of freedom for which it claims to be waging war — it could have offered reinforced protection or even searched participants at assembly points (a commonplace in countries truly plagued by terror). 
As Naomi Klein has pointed out, the French state of emergency applies blatant double standards: the Christmas market at Champs Elysées — masses thronging the avenue to do their shopping — retains a green light, as do soccer matches, even though one was an actual target on November 13. The government’s priorities are evident.
COP21 begins today. But yesterday French police clamped down hard on demonstrators, even indulging in house arrests for prominent climate justice activists, as Sewell Chan reports in "France Uses Sweeping Powers to Curb Climate Protests, but Clashes Erupt":
PARIS — The French government is using the sweeping emergency powers it gained after the Paris terrorist attacks to clamp down on any possible disruption to the two-week global climate conference that starts on Monday, limiting public demonstrations, beefing up security and placing two dozen environmental activists under house arrest. 
The efforts to restrict protests — as world leaders arrived to reach an international deal to contain global warming — were not entirely successful; 174 people were taken into custody on Sunday after demonstrators clashed with the police in the historic Place de la République.
The police, in full riot gear, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom grabbed flowers and other remembrances that had been left at a tribute to the 130 people killed in the attacks and hurled them at officers. Some demonstrators chanted: “State of emergency, police state. You can’t take away our right to demonstrate!”

Twenty-four environmental activists were put under house arrest in the past few days, as the French prepared to host the long-anticipated talks.
***
Juliette Rousseau, the head of Coalition Climat 21, an umbrella group for environmental activists, said the authorities had searched homes and seized computers and other equipment belonging to activists who have no connection to terrorism. 
“There’s clearly an environment to keep activists out,” she said. “The state of emergency is clearly targeting activist movements. This is not justified. These people under house arrest, they don’t have any kind of criminal record.” 
She added: “The impression we have is that there is this conference taking place in a sealed-up space, and meanwhile people in civil society are being asphyxiated.”
This is how it works. Jihadist terrorists, espousing an ideology identical to the West's allies among the Gulf monarchies in the Middle East, are used as bogeymen to justify a crackdown on secular, leftist activists.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is all part of a plan. And if you want to avoid the taint of being labeled a "conspiracy theorist" in arguing that jihadist terrorism is actively supported by the West in order to destabilize targeted states at the same time it enables the expansion of domestic surveillance and police powers, then why not settle on the hypothesis that Western capitalist democracies, operating on a "pay-to-play" scheme as they do, are riven by contradictions, and these contradictions lead to perpetual war and a concomitant loss of liberty.

The irony of Obama assuring the citizenry last Wednesday that there were no credible immediate threats of terrorism to the homeland only to have a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs shot up in a murderous rampage should be quite clear. The U.S. has its own homegrown terrorists; some forms of murderous violence have a quasi-official sanction. The GOP has long had a pact with right-to-life absolutists. Colorado Springs is the direct result of the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood staff discussing the acquisition of fetal tissue with actors hired by the anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress. The videos were vetted by Republican Congressmen prior to their public release.

Yes, the U.S. has its own religious fundamentalist terror network. To get a sense how the global jihadist network du jour functions read "ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City Gives It a Fallback Option" by David Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt. Islamic State is moving the caliphate to the Mediterranean coast of Libya:
The Islamic State has already established exclusive control of more than 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline near Surt, from the town of Abugrein in the west to Nawfaliya in the east. The militias from the nearby city of Misurata that once vowed to expel the group completely have all retreated. Only a few checkpoints manned by one or two militiamen guard the edge of the Islamic State’s turf, where its fighters come and go as they please.

***
“A great exodus of the Islamic State leadership in Syria and Iraq is now establishing itself in Libya,” said Omar Adam, 34, the commander of a prominent militia based in Misurata. 
The group in Surt has also begun imposing the parent organization’s harsh version of Islamic law on the city, enforcing veils for all women, banning music and cigarettes, and closing shops during prayers, residents and recent visitors said. The group carried out at least four crucifixions in August. 
Last month the group held its first two public beheadings, killing two men accused of sorcery, according to prison inmates who knew the men and a Surt resident who said he had witnessed the killings.
One comes away from this lengthy piece with the understanding that Islamic State is a mercenary organization with Saudi and Iraqi leadership:
The fighters and guards in Surt all bowed to a Saudi administrator, or “wali,” who had been sent by the Islamic State to preside over the city. (A former Surt City Council member now in exile in Misurata said the Islamic State periodically rotates in new administrators, who typically are from the Persian Gulf.) Whenever drones were heard flying overhead, guards would run to the Saudi, take away his cellphone, and hurry him away to safety, the truck drivers said, suggesting that the Islamic State considered him important enough to be a target of American airstrikes.
Multinational terrorism networks are by definition not indigenous. They usually rely on some form of state sponsorship. Tomorrow we'll look at the recent focus in the Western press on the abhorrent totalitarian nature of the Gulf sheikhdoms that have so much sway in the U.S. and Europe.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NFL Week 12: Let's Get Caught Up, Again

This weekend of the Thanksgiving holiday marks three years that this page has been up and running. I started the blog when I got back from California, where I go every Thanksgiving to visit my father. We have a routine. We run a "turkey trot," one of these community fun runs that are popping up all over and are very popular now, so much so that the turkey trot is becoming as much a part of the Thanksgiving holiday as Black Friday and the National Football League. After we run the turkey trot, we return to my father's modest house in a suburban neighborhood close to downtown of the Solano County seat, and we watch football all day. The next day, Black Friday, I travel north back to the Emerald City. That's the routine.

There was some variation this year in that I decided to get my father a flat screen digital television. TV is very important for the elderly, something I found out one Christmas while visiting my mother, who resides in an assisted-living facility, when her universal remote quit on her. A panic attack ensued. Thank goodness it happened at a time, 4:30 PM on Christmas Eve, that I could run out and buy a replacement at the Radio Shack. If the remote had quit just an hour or two later, my mother, who can only move about with the aid of a walker, would have had to go without her regular televisual experience for more than 36 hours. A real crisis.

My father has had the same TV for years, a small -- 13-inch -- analog model with a picture tube and a built-in VCR; the same kind of TV that I have had for the last 12 years. We both have the analog-to-digital-antenna converter box. But recently a co-worker gifted me an older flat screen that she and her husband never used in a spare bedroom because they found something newer and larger on craigslist. And it was such a marked improvement from the old-school 13-inch, particularly for the type of programming that I use the television for -- the NFL -- that I decided my father, who watches TV every day, would benefit if he had his own.

So prior to my trip down to California, I went online and found a well-rated, reasonably-priced 2015 high-definition (HD) 32-inch LG flat screen. (Read Nicholson Baker's magisterial New Yorker piece, "A Fourth State of Matter," on the South Korean flat screen television industry. Samsung and LG are the two big South Korean producers.) The LG arrived at my father's house in a little more than a day, and he installed it himself. But by the time I arrived he was having difficulty picking up the same stations that he had with the old set.

Here our troubles began. I thought we would face only minimal difficulty in working out the kinks and matching the reception he enjoyed before because I had no problem with my own gifted flat screen. What I didn't take into account is that my flat screen was so old that it didn't have its own HD tuner; hence, I was able to use the same analog-to-digital-antenna converter that I used on my old-school cathode-ray-tube TV. These new flat screen televisions come equipped with their own HD receiver, and, apparently, at least what my father and I have learned, is that they are not as good as the analog-to-digital-antenna converters which were widely distributed when we the non-cable unwashed were kicked off the analog spectrum into the digital stream.

We then proceeded to problem solve for the next two days, our goal being to try to match the number of channels he had with the old technology; that, and be able to receive all three networks televising the Thanksgiving games -- FOX, CBS, NBC. This meant two separate trips each to both Target and Best Buy, and one trip to Sears. What we learned is that most digital antennas are useless, particularly if you live in an area that is windy and rainy and far away from the nearest transmission tower. My father lives in a wind corridor, and we learned by research online that the nearest transmission towers are 29 miles to the east. So we returned the first digital antenna we purchased at Best Buy and upgraded to one with amplification and a 40-mile range.

After purchasing 100 feet of coaxial cable at Target and walking the digital antenna all around his living room, dining room and kitchen; out into the front yard; and finally out into the patio area at the back of the house, we found the sweet spot -- the window in the living room at the front of the house. Thanksgiving Day was clear and not too windy so we were able to enjoy the morning and afternoon games on the big screen. But the winds picked up at night, and we were forced back to the old 13-inch to see Chicago hold on for a big upset of the Packers at Lambeau Field.

My takeaway from all this is that "superior" technology is not always better. Analog TV might not have been high definition, but neither was it so sensitive that a gust wind would lead to disintegrating pixelation of the picture.

If new, "higher" technology is not better then we as a society can expect nothing but trouble ahead because that is all that Western civilization has to offer its citizens these days -- the promise of "consuming" newer, more wonderful digital technologies.

As neoliberalism -- the divination of the market above all else -- continues to reign supreme despite its inability to deliver economic growth, as our political parties, in fealty to concentrated wealth, atrophy beyond recognition, as the Global War on Terrorism" leads to ever more terrorism, as the mass extinctions of anthropocene surge, we the people are cajoled to visit the big box outlet at the super mall and purchase the latest digital tech. That is our consolation. And having just "been there and done that," I am here to tell you it is no consolation at all. Pope Francis is completely on the mark when he says in his encyclical "On Care For Our Common Home" that the dominant technocratic, consumer-driven paradigm is killing the planet and needs to be overturned.

But this is supposed to be a post about the National Football League Week 12. Of two unbeaten teams, Carolina and New England, the Panthers are the team that has the best shot at going all the way. Why? Because they are playing the best defense -- hands down -- of any team. They have it all -- a fantastic secondary; super-fast smart linebackers; a steady stout line. As long as Cam Newton can keep his gigantic ego in check and play turnover free football, I like Carolina's chances.

The Patriots, always formidable, have issues, which were on display Monday night against mediocre Buffalo. Julian Edelman is Brady's go-to guy, and he's gone for the year. Maybe he could come back for the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl, assuming New England is there, but it is doubtful. Dion Lewis is gone for the year too. The Patriots defense is beatable. New England depends on Brady controlling time of possession.

If Osweiler, who is good, can play well; or if Cincinnati can overcome there late season issues; or if Pittsburgh gets hot -- all could beat New England.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, the mood in Seattle is not buoyant heading into today's game with the Steelers. The young men in Seahawks gear I talked to on the flights down and back were not optimistic. The feeling is one of resignation. We've been burned too often this season to believe otherwise. The oddsmakers favor Seattle because the Steelers-Seahawks match-up is usually decided by who is playing at home. It should be a nail-biter. Again.

My epiphany while struggling through the turkey trot on Thanksgiving is that will power is a hard thing to maintain year in and year out. My times have really suffered lately. I'm not training like I used to. There are a whole set of reasons for this, but the end result is the performance. And my performances have been poorer.

The Seahawks are in the same place. This cannot be denied. The Seattle faithful, the 12s, long hoping for a turnaround I believe have accepted that the team is diminished and will be fortunate to win today. Something Seattle must do to remain in the hunt for a wild card playoff berth.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Doctor Strange #2


It is good to see that Marvel has given Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, his own title again (maybe because of a forthcoming movie release), particularly since it is written by the always excellent Jason Aaron with compelling art by Chris Bachalo.

If the superhero is a nihilistic fantasy of the ego's triumph in an outwardly hostile world, then Doctor Strange is a champion for the ego's triumph in a hostile internal dimension. The astral plane is filled with demons and malevolent avatars, and Stephen Strange is always on call with a timely psychic palliative.

In Doctor Strange #2, Aaron and Bachalo tell the story of a Bronx librarian, Zelma, who knocks on the door of Stephen Strange's bachelor pad in Greenwich Village, the famous Sanctum Sanctorum, to see if he has any idea how to cure the demons popping out of her scalp.

The comic book whimsically but effectively communicates the vermin-like nature of psychic dysfunction.

Below are 15 scans from Doctor Strange #2. The demons have exploded out of Zelma's scalp and infested Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum.















Monday, November 23, 2015

Centcom Investigation into Cooking Intelligence on ISIS has Potential to Bring Down the U.S. Warfare State

The cooking of intelligence coming out of Centcom has the potential to be a bombshell so huge it will destroy the current foundation of the perpetual warfare state, what used to be referred to as the Global War on Terror. Of course Obama is in full cover-up mode, as Michael Shear reports in "Obama Orders Inquiry Into Intelligence on ISIS":
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — President Obama said on Sunday that he had ordered his senior defense officials to find out whether intelligence reports had been altered to reflect a more optimistic assessment of the American military campaign against the Islamic State. 
Speaking at a news conference in Malaysia at the end of a 10-day overseas trip, Mr. Obama said he expected the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate allegations that significant changes were made to reports from analysts at the United States Central Command, known as Centcom.
“I don’t know what we’ll discover with respect to what was going on in Centcom,” Mr. Obama said. “What I do know is my expectation — which is the highest fidelity to facts, data, the truth.”
Mr. Obama was responding to a report in The New York Times on Sunday that described the internal Pentagon investigation. Some analysts in the Defense Department say their supervisors revised their conclusions about some of the military’s failures before finalizing the reports.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon has expanded its investigation into the allegations and has seized a large trove of emails and documents as it examines the claims. The president said altering reports to make them more optimistic would be contrary to his wishes.
If the inspector general of the Department of Defense is already conducting an investigation, Obama's statement that he is ordering his senior people to get to the bottom of it is meaningless, hollow grandstanding.

What is obvious is that ISIS has been studiously ignored by the Obama administration from the outset. All one need do is go back and read the coverage from the days when ISIS took Mosul at the end of spring last year. The U.S. man in Baghdad at the time, Brett McGurt (elevated to a new position recently, Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL), spent more time hectoring Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki to relinquish power than he did dealing with the rise of the caliphate, an enormous launch pad for jihadist terrorist attacks on the West.

The cover story at the time was that al-Maliki had to go in order to build trust with Iraqi Sunni who supposedly were fueling the ISIS conflagration. So al-Maliki went and ISIS gobbled up even more territory.

It is a favorite canard of the West that the jihadist efflorescence in Iraq and Syria is homegrown. It is not. It is a foreign import that is attributable to many of the key members of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, a classic subterfuge where an enemy is created and supported in order to destabilize an area and then penetrate it with your superior military force.

As for the potential godhead bombshell that is the Pentagon inspector general's investigation, here is what Matt Apuzzo, Mark Mazzetti and Michael Schmidt had to say yesterday in "Pentagon Expands Inquiry Into Intelligence on ISIS Surge":
The attacks in Paris last week were a deadly demonstration that the Islamic State, once a group of militants focused on seizing territory in Iraq and Syria, has broadened its focus to attack the West. The electronic files seized in the Pentagon investigation tell the story of the group’s rise, as seen through the eyes of Centcom, which oversees military operations across the Middle East.
The exact content of those documents is unclear and may not become public because so much of the information is classified. But military officials have told Congress that some of those emails and documents may have been deleted before they had to be turned over to investigators, according to a senior congressional official, who requested anonymity to speak about the ongoing inquiry. Current and former officials have separately made similar claims, on condition of anonymity, to The New York Times. Although lawmakers are demanding answers about those claims, it is not clear that the inspector general has been able to verify them. A spokeswoman for the inspector general declined to comment.

Staff members at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are also poring over years of Centcom intelligence reports and comparing them to assessments from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others. The committee is not just examining reports about Iraq, Syria and the Islamic State, but also about Afghanistan and other areas under Centcom’s purview. The insurrection inside Centcom is an important chapter in the story of how the United States responded to the growing threat from the Islamic State. This past summer, a group of Centcom analysts took concerns about their superiors to the inspector general, saying they had evidence that senior officials had changed intelligence assessments to overstate the progress of American airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
***
That investigation was prompted by complaints this past summer from Centcom’s longtime Iraq experts, led by Gregory Hooker, the senior Iraq analyst. In some ways, the team’s criticisms mirror those of a decade ago, when Mr. Hooker wrote a research paper saying the Bush administration, over many analysts’ objections, advocated a small force in Iraq and spent little time planning for what would follow the invasion. 
Lawmakers originally said that the Centcom investigation would be completed in weeks. But Pentagon investigators have found the work painstaking and it could span months. In addition to determining whether changes were made to intelligence reports — and if so, who ordered them — the investigators, like the staff members of the House intelligence committee, are studying reports from other intelligence agencies produced at the time to determine what was actually occurring in Iraq and Syria when the reports were written.
The creation of multiple investigations in Congress, one in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and one in the House Armed Services Committee, is not necessarily a good sign. It means that the issue of doctoring intelligence for war purposes will be obscured as the fog machinery of the duopoly is cranked into high gear.

What did those deleted emails say? Certainly investigators have the technology to retrieve them. The issue is whether they really want to. My guess is that there is some rather frank "sports talk" about how the Turks and the Saudis are running ISIS, and how the U.S. was lending a hand.

Why else purposely inflate the effectiveness of airstrikes against ISIS? The only benign explanation I can think of is that senior Pentagon brass didn't want their boss in the Oval Office to feel any heat to ratchet up a response to a formidable adversary.

But on closer inspection this excuse makes no sense, particularly after ISIS took Palmyra and Ramadi this past May, because eventually the "facts on the ground" will out and a reckoning must be had.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that the intelligence was rewritten because the objectives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are the same as the U.S. and its main allies in the region -- to weaken Iran and the governments aligned with Iran. The U.S. wants to be seen as fighting effectively against Islamic terrorism, at the same time it is using Wahhabi jihadists to achieve its geopolitical goals. It is the classic Ring of Gyges scenario that spurs Socrates on his discourse about the Good in Plato's Republic, as well as much of the action in Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the idea that the optimal position for a man is to have the reputation for moral rectitude but also to be equipped with a special ring that makes him invisible so he can steal and desecrate at will.

This is what the U.S. and its allies are trying to pull off, a Ring of Gyges scenario. Hopefully, enough truth will come out of the Centcom investigation that the invisible will be made visible. I am not too optimistic though. The Unites States is a warfare nation. Anything so big that it could threaten a nation's essence will be assiduously and ruthlessly crushed.

****

I am out of town for the holiday. Look for a post this Friday.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Kamel Daoud's "Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It"

The best, most to-the-point statement I've read about the West's Global War on Terror; it is all built on a lie, or as Kamel Daoud says in "Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It," the denial that Saudi Arabia is exporting jihad en masse. To its credit The New York Times is publishing Daoud's essay.

If you read the newspapers every day, it is a marvel to behold, this mainstream conspiracy to occlude the obvious. Yet, as Tag Team reminded us, "Whoomp! There It Is." I ask people all the time -- people at work, people at the grocery store -- what they think about the mess we have wrought in the Middle East, and no one singles out al-Saud for blame. Usually, it is, "Oh, they've been killing each other over there for thousands of years," or "That Assad is a brute." Propaganda works. But what you will read below is the unvarnished truth.
Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It
By Kamel Daoud
Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it. 
The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns. 
One might counter: Isn’t Saudi Arabia itself a possible target of Daesh? Yes, but to focus on that would be to overlook the strength of the ties between the reigning family and the clergy that accounts for its stability — and also, increasingly, for its precariousness. The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. 
One has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas. Islamist culture is widespread in many countries — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania. There are thousands of Islamist newspapers and clergies that impose a unitary vision of the world, tradition and clothing on the public space, on the wording of the government’s laws and on the rituals of a society they deem to be contaminated. 
It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity. This totally schizophrenic situation parallels the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia.

All of which leaves one skeptical of Western democracies’ thunderous declarations regarding the necessity of fighting terrorism. Their war can only be myopic, for it targets the effect rather than the cause. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?
Is curing the disease therefore a simple matter? Hardly. Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives. 
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books. 
The attacks in Paris have exposed this contradiction again, but as happened after 9/11, it risks being erased from our analyses and our consciences.

Hippies vs. Punks: Shilpa Ray's Last Year's Savage (2015)


Shilpa Ray's Last Year's Savage, released this year, is filled with one great song after another. Of all of them I believe my favorite is "Moksha."

Shilpa Ray is a Brooklyn chanteuse who plays a harmonium; she is a mid-tempo Punk rocker who absolutely blows her better known Brooklyn peer, Sharon Van Etten, right off the Williamsburg block. Ray's lyrics are super-smart and edgy. I don't usually pay that close attention to words, but it is hard not to when they are in lines like "My dick’s bigger, my breasts are thicker, whatever power means" from the song "Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp" or the following first verse from my favorite, "Moksha":
There’s no entry for the foreigners
I’m your native girl with my
Tail between my bleeding ass
And I’m off to the gates of heaven
I’ve been fakin’ my drunken stupor
And my absence from your real world
I’m just better than prostrating bitches
Who make believe they’re misunderstood
In the end, I'm a sound guy. And what is powerful in "Moksha," and throughout Last Year's Savage, is the droning pump organ, the walloping drums -- like a burlesque strip tease, or a rug on a clothes line being beaten with a kitchen broom -- and Ray's voice.



Yesterday walking home up the hill I tried to remember why I was thinking about the time my ex-wife's mother's live-in boyfriend, Chris was his name, horrified me with a tale about how he had stopped reading. At the time, I was a university undergraduate, probably 20 or 21. 

Chris was a nurse who worked in the same hospital as my mother-in-law. His story of how he had stopped reading went something like this: During college and for the first few years after he got out into the workaday world, he read fulsomely -- history, philosophy, the weighty fiction of the masters. But gradually his passion for the text diminished, and Chris found himself moving away from serious prose to lighter fare like pulp paperbacks. Eventually, as the years sped by, he even stopped reading Michael Crichton and Stephen King, settling for the local small-town evening paper. Finally, at the time of his confession to me in the mid-1980s, he had even stopped reading the evening paper. Capping off his narrative, he said something like, "Now all I can manage is reading a Time article while I am on the toilet."

This hit me like a thunderbolt. I lived to read; reading was my life. I was studying philosophy at the university, reading Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, et al. The idea that there would be a time when I no longer read struck me as a kind of living death, life as a zombie where I would go, like Chris the nurse did, to work every day and then come home and smoke a joint and maybe go out for a run. The thing of it is, what made me panic at the time and seared the moment in my memory to recall this past week 30 years later, is that I knew right then and there that Chris was telling me the truth.

And sure enough, I, basically, like Chris thirty years ago, don't read anymore. Certainly, I try to read the newspaper every day, and a few comic books on Saturday. But the days of sitting down for hours with my snout in The Critique of Pure Reason or Beyond Good and Evil are long gone.

And then I remembered why I remembered Chris' story -- because all that reading of the Western philosophers I did while in college has never left me. I think about it all the time; it informs how I look at the world.

And one of those ideas, gleaned from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, is that we can never completely know the future. The system is always open, must remain open. Any attempt to close the system and declare the end of history or the achievement of perfection is doomed to failure.

What the artist does is nibble at the outer edge of the timeline, the place where the present intersects with the future, where the atmosphere meets the void of space; she brings the future back to us (we, the consumers, the witnesses) and regurgitates it; we then consume it.

This is why it is essential to keep listening to new music. It is how rationality works. Shilpa Ray's Last Year's Savage, like Future's DS2, is pure ambrosia.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Black Lives Matter: The Only Game in Town

There is a good story, sort of a roundup, on Black Lives Matter by John Eligon ("One Slogan, Many Methods: Black Lives Matter Enters Politics"). At this point, as I see it, Black Lives Matter is pretty much "the only game in town," if you exclude efforts to struggle in the Augean Stables of the duopoly. The $15 Now movement has largely been adopted by the mainstream. Efforts continue to raise the minimum wage at the city level and for large university systems, but by and large $15 Now has carried the day.

Ferguson, where Black Lives Matter took off, is now almost a year-and-a-half gone, but Black Lives Matter, as Eligon's piece makes clear, is still going strong. It has plenty of grass-roots mojo, as well as insider chops. In a potentially troubling sign, a Black Lives Matter super PAC is being set up, as Eligon reports, to raise money from wealthy Democrat funders:
“At this point, marching and protesting, it’s not going anywhere,” said Tarik Mohamed, treasurer and a founder of the super PAC. “So we’re trying to find new avenues of engaging people for change.” 
And, in a sign of its growing influence, the movement is attracting the attention of deep-pocketed Democratic donors, who met with activists in Washington this week to discuss how they can support the budding movement.
*** 
The Black Lives Matter Super PAC, in addition to contributing to campaigns next year, hopes to capitalize on new technology, such as virtual reality software, to help people understand experiences like solitary confinement, Mr. Mohamed said.
Members of the Democracy Alliance, an influential club of liberal donors, met on Tuesday with groups allied under the Black Lives Matters banner — including ColorOfChange.org, Black Youth Project 100 and the Black Civic Engagement Fund — to discuss possibly directing funds to the movement, said Leah Hunt-Hendrix, an alliance member. The organizations represented only a sample of the groups that donors wanted to shed light on, she said.
“It was just a really real conversation about the complexities of funding movements and the need for more infrastructure, especially black-led infrastructure,” said Ms. Hunt-Hendrix, who has inherited wealth from an oil company her grandfather started. 
Specific funding commitments were not made, she said, and it would be up to individual donors to follow up with organizations they want to support.
“We don’t want to raise expectations that this is a secretive group of donors hoping to raise tons of money,” she said.
As soon as "gee whiz" whiz-bang technology is trotted out as a growth strategy for a social movement run for the hills, preferably the Sierra Maestra.

Nonetheless, Black Lives Matter has been around now and is organizing, growing and influencing perception and governance longer than Occupy Wall Street, an organization I thought would be able to successfully redefine itself with its Occupy Sandy volunteerism after its main encampment was demolished. No such luck,

There needs to be an egalitarian mass movement that is not appropriated by one of the two devilish hands of the duopoly. Obama's legacy will be that he proved adept at suckering people back into belief and participation in a corrupt and failed political system. There are no avatars of the mainstream who will better our lot because the mainstream is choked with lies and is sped along by warfare and concentrated wealth.

There is a powerful, expanding understanding that the system has failed. Black Lives Matter so far has walked the talk.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

U.S. Position on Syria Becoming Untenable: How Long Can Obama Keep the Spotlight from Shining on Saudi Arabia?

How do you publish a lengthy feature on the growth of ISIS, as the Gray Lady does today with Ian Fisher's "In Rise of ISIS, No Single Missed Key but Many Strands of Blame," and barely -- maybe once or twice in passing -- mention Saudi Arabia?

It is ludicrous, but it goes directly to the heart of the U.S. position on the war in Syria. Obama is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one side, he has repeatedly dismissed the seriousness of Islamic State, insisting the caliphate is an epiphenomenon of Assad's brutally; that once Assad is ushered off the stage, then the dove of peace will descend and all will set about to the righteous path. On the other side, Obama has warned of toppling the Syrian government militarily, for chaos a la Libya will reign in the absence of Baathist rule.

So what you have is a policy of slow-motion regime change where the U.S. is facilitating as best it can, according to the wishes of its partners in the GCC, a victory of jihadist forces over the Syrian government, while simultaneously hoping that the situation doesn't get too out of control.

But the situation is clearly out of control and it has been for years. It is only when a European capital city comes under assault that most people in the West suddenly appear to have arisen from slumber and started to demand answers. Of course prior to Paris, there was Beirut, Sharm el Sheikh, Ankara, etc., not to mention the huge influx of refugees to Europe from the greater Middle East.

That's why on Monday Obama was riddled with skeptical questions from reporters at the G20 conference in Turkey. In that appearance before the press (Michael Shear and Peter Baker,
"Obama Says Strategy to Fight ISIS Will Succeed") Obama contradicted his CIA chief John Brennan by saying that the Paris terror attack was not all that sophisticated but more a product of ideology, before reasserting the canard that ISIS flourished in the vacuum created by the war in Syria:
At his news conference here, Mr. Obama sounded weary as he repeatedly rejected criticism of his yearlong strategy. Wrapping up 48 hours of diplomacy in this Turkish resort community on the Mediterranean Sea, the president seemed frustrated by second-guessing and twice chided reporters for asking the same question in slightly different ways. 
He denied underestimating the Islamic State, saying that the group’s attacks have not been particularly sophisticated. “If you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess. But it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.” [But whose ideology is it? It is Saudi Wahhabism.]
***
In the end, he said, the strategy will choke off the Islamic State’s financing, cut off its supply lines and reinforcements and make it harder to hold territory. Along with a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war that provided a vacuum for the Islamic State to fill, “that ultimately is going to be what’s going to make a difference,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “and it’s going to take some time.” 
But who created that vacuum of war? The U.S. and its allies did.

If you want a "man on a galloping horse" perspective on the war in Syria, straight with no bullshit, consult Abel Bari Atwan's interview yesterday on Democracy Now!:
You know, Saudi Arabia is the origin of radicalism, Islamic radicalism, in the Middle East and the whole world and the whole Islamic world. Why? Because al-Qaeda ideology—sorry, Islamic State ideology is the same Wahhabi ideology which adopted by the Saudi kingdom. This is—you know, they go back to the time of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in 1704, you know, so they are doing—doing exactly the same. They are doing in Syria and Iraq this brutality, this savagery, the Wahhabism of the Saudi regime in 1705 and ’06, when they actually invaded Karbala and Najaf. They committed the same massacres.
So, Saudi Arabia, actually, now, they are—they are, actually, with Qatar and with Turkey. They have some sort of alliance. And they started the problem in Syria. They poured billions in Syria, hoping to topple the Assad regime for personal revenge, not for political means, not for actually, you know, a strategic move from their side. They just want to take revenge, personal revenge, because Assad insulted them in a way or another, and also because they thought that they can topple him in a few weeks, few months maximum. So they poured billions of weapons. And also, they encouraged a hundred—sorry, tens of thousands of volunteers to go through Turkey to Syria to fight against the Assad regime.
I would add that the Saudis and Turks have strategic objectives. They want to make sure after the deal with the West on its nuclear program that the Iranians do not have stable allies in Iraq and Syria. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Despite Syrian Ceasefire Proposal, U.S. Still Insists "Assad Must Go"

Kerry is in Paris today (Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Cease-Fire and Political Transition in Syria Crucial to Defeating ISIS, Kerry Says") talking up the ceasefire deal arrived at in Geneva. But the U.S. secretary of state has not ceased chanting the Saudi mantra of "Assad Must Go," and he persists in blaming the Syrian government for the rise of ISIS (some kind of chutzpah):
PARIS — The United States, France and Russia must step up their coordination in striking the Islamic State in Syria after the Paris terrorist attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, but he insisted that cooperation cannot begin until there is a cease-fire and a political transition. 
Mr. Kerry expressed optimism that a shift in Syria could come within weeks now that the United States and more than a dozen other nations, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, have agreed to a framework to end the crisis there. 
That will depend, he said, on the ability of Syrian opposition groups to organize and negotiate with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and cooperation from Russia and Iran to ease the transition. 
“Now, all we need is the beginning of the political process, and the cease-fire goes in place – that’s a gigantic step,” he said in an interview with reporters who were traveling with him. 
Mr. Kerry also met with President François Hollande of France on Tuesday to discuss how to intensify pressure against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or the Arabic acronym Daesh. 
“If we can get that done, that opens up the aperture for a whole bunch of things,” Mr. Kerry said of a cease-fire in the four-year civil war. “So we’re weeks away, conceivably, from the possibility of a big transition for Syria.” 
The more quickly the political changes occur, he added, “the faster the violence can taper down and we can isolate Daesh and al Nusra, and begin to do what our strategy has always set out to do.” 
Although American and Russian forces are sharing limited information in their military campaigns, they are not fully coordinating their efforts against the Islamic State. France is also hitting Islamic State targets in Syria. 
United States officials fear that any information they shared with Moscow about American-supported opposition groups would be used by the Russians or Mr. Assad to target them.  [U.S. won't share intelligence on the groups it is backing because this would reveal that the West is backing jihadist groups very similar to ISIS; fighters move back and forth between the various Islamist factions based on who is paying top dollar.]
Once the political process is on track, Mr. Kerry said, the United States and Russia could begin to “cooperate on the broader scale, which we can’t do until we have some definition.” 
Mr. Kerry’s diplomatic effort faces long odds in the multisided conflict in Syria, which has become a proxy war, and it was not clear whether his ambitious timetable is feasible.
Although the United States has said Mr. Assad must leave office as part of any solution to the conflict in Syria, he has the support of Russia and Iran, and Iran’s deputy foreign minister reiterated that point on Monday. 
But Kerry said on Tuesday that it would be impossible to defeat the Islamic State without the departure of Mr. Assad. 
“He’s complicit in the rise of Daesh, and therefore, as long as Assad is there, you cannot fully go get rid of this phenomenon,” Mr. Kerry said.
In other words, nothing much has changed. Hope has been expressed that the impromptu Putin-Obama powwow at the G20 conference in Turkey might lead to increased coordination between Russia and the U.S. But as of yet we have no real proof of any rapprochement. There is some evidence that the French and Russians are working more closely. According to Foreign Policy's "Situation Report" this morning, French and Russian planes are both bombing Raqqa. This takes coordination I would imagine:
Amid new reports that Russian cruise missiles and long range bombers hit the Syrian city of Raqqa late Monday night, (there’s video of one of the missiles streaking across the Syrian sky), French warplanes also pounded the Islamic State’s capital for the second straight night, launching 10 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
So while the U.S. is parroting the line that ISIS (and therefore the terror attacks on Paris) is Assad's fault, there is some proof that France is beginning to gravitate to the Russian camp.

Yesterday's "Situation Report" contained an interesting synopsis of the spin on Paris:
Forty-nine Syrian rebel groups issued a joint statement on Friday condemning the attacks "that oppose the heavenly laws and the human values," according to a translation published by SITE Intel Group. The rebel groups asked the international community to align against the Assad regime, which it labeled the source of the Islamic State's persistence.

On the other side of the Syrian conflict, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decried the Paris attack, with Putin urging France to join with Russia in forming an international coalition in Syria. Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria alongside Russia and Iran on the side of the Assad regime, also issued a statement, referencing the recent attacks against a Shiite neighborhood in Beirut by the Islamic State.
The 49 Syrian rebel groups are chock full of Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom agree wholeheartedly with the Islamic State even if they quibble with the immediate tactics of kamikaze Kalashnikov attacks on rock concerts. These are the rebel groups the U.S. is aligned with, the ones it will be difficult for Kerry to airbrush come time for them to participate in a transition government.

Monday, November 16, 2015

After Paris: A Few Hopeful Signs but Overall Business as Usual

There are indications this morning that the Friday assault on Paris by Islamic State hit teams that murdered 129 might actually prompt a shift by the West. Ever since Mosul fell at the end of spring 2014, the West, led by the United States, has been engaged in largely cosmetic attacks on ISIS as the jihadist offshoot of Al Qaeda pursued goals identical to the West, namely, regime change in Iraq and Syria. The collapse of the Iraqi Army was used to oust Nouri al-Maliki, but Bashar al-Assad has not proven so easy to dislodge.

Beginning early last month with Russia's active militarily involvement against the potpourri of jihadist groups operating in Syria, many with the direct support of Western intelligence services and GCC funding, the war in Syria began to shift. Islamic State struck back by blowing up a Russian charter jet in the Sinai two weeks ago, followed by a suicide bombing in a Beirut neighborhood, capped off by the assault on Paris on Friday.

Indications that this ISIS assault on a Western capital city has elicited a move away from the cosmetic to the substantive in the war against the caliphate are contained in two stories this morning: "France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in Retaliation for Attacks," by Alissa Rubin and Anne Barnard, and "U.S. Warplanes Strike ISIS Oil Trucks in Syria," by Michael Gordon.

First, Michael Gordon's story. Many commentators have pointed out that if the U.S. were truly serious about knocking out the caliphate it would go after its black-market oil pipeline. As Pepe Escobar argued ten-days ago in "What's the Big Deal Between the Russians and the Saudis?":
Meanwhile, fomenting all sorts of wild speculation, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh still manages to collect as much as $50 million a month from selling crude from oilfields it controls across “Syraq”, according to the best Iraq-based estimates. 
The fact that this mini-oil caliphate is able to bring in equipment and technical experts from “abroad” to keep its energy sector running beggars belief. “Abroad” in this context means essentially Turkey – engineers plus equipment for extraction, refinement, transport and energy production. 
One of the reasons this is happening is that the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) – which includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey – is actually bombing the Syrian state energy infrastructure, not the mini oil-Caliphate domains. So we have the proverbial “international actors” in the region de facto aiding ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to sell crude to smugglers for as low as $10 a barrel.
Or as John Newsinger points out in a footnote to his "Wars Past and Wars to Come" in the latest Monthly Review:
The U.S. fight against Islamic State is compromised by the covert support that America’s allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, continue to provide for that regime. When considering IS it is worth adopting the old adage of following the money. Who is helping produce, sell and distribute the Islamic State’s oil? It is certain that Western intelligence agencies know the answer to this question, but obviously those assisting IS are too important to be named, let alone be sanctioned for their actions.
Now, according to Gordon, the U.S. has finally decided to target the Islamic State's oil:
ISTANBUL — Intensifying pressure on the Islamic State, United States warplanes for the first time attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that the extremist group has been using to smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria, American officials said.

According to an initial assessment, 116 trucks were destroyed in the attack, which took place near Deir al-Zour, an area in eastern Syria that is controlled by the Islamic State.
The airstrikes were carried out by four A-10 attack planes and two AC-130 gunships based in Turkey. 
Plans for the strike were developed well before the terrorist attacks in and around Paris on Friday, officials familiar with the operation said, part of a broader operation to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to generate revenue to support its military operations and govern its territory. 
American officials have long been frustrated by ability of ISIS to generate tens of million of dollars a month by producing and exporting oil.
To disrupt that source of revenue, American officials said last week that the United States had sharply stepped up its airstrikes against infrastructure that allows ISIS to pump oil in Syria. 
Until Monday, the United States had refrained from striking the fleet used to transport oil, believed to include more than 1,000 tanker trucks, because of concerns about causing civilian casualties. As a result, the Islamic State’s distribution system for exporting oil had remained largely intact. 
The new campaign is called Tidal Wave II. It is named after the World War II effort to counter Nazi Germany by striking Romania’s oil industry. Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who in September assumed command of the international coalition’s campaign in Iraq and Syria, suggested the name. 
To reduce the risk of harming civilians, two F-15 warplanes dropped leaflets about an hour before the attack warning drivers to abandon their vehicles, and strafing runs were conducted to reinforce the message.
Don't believe the window-dressing about concern for civilian casualties. Just ask the survivors from the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz. The U.S. and its allies obviously wanted to maintain the viability of the caliphate as a way to pressure the governments of Iraq and Syria.

My concern is that these airstrikes on the oil-tanker trucks are going to be a PR one-off, evidence of good faith for the voters back home who are paying attention. Kerry's statement coming out of the negotiations in Geneva stick to the "It's All Assad's Fault" script, which is the same one that got us ISIS to begin with. According to Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Attacks in Paris Add Urgency to Talks on Ending Syria War":
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov sparred openly over the fate of Mr. Assad, a central question in any final agreement. 
The United States, along with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, believes Mr. Assad must go as part of any final settlement, and Mr. Kerry described him on Saturday as an enabler of the Islamic State and a “magnet” for foreign fighters who are spreading terror through the region and beyond. 
“This war won’t end — this war can’t end — as long as Bashar al-Assad is there,” he said. [Clear statement that there will be more terror attacks like Friday's in Paris.] 
But Russia has been a strong Assad supporter, and Mr. Lavrov argued that the conflict in Syria goes far beyond him, noting that past crises in Iraq and Libya only worsened with the ouster of their leaders, Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi. 
“I cannot agree, therefore, with the logic that Assad is the cause for everything,” Mr. Lavrov said to Mr. Kerry, seated with him in a hotel ballroom for the news conference. “The Paris attacks have shown, alongside with ISIS claiming responsibility for it, that it doesn’t matter if you are for Assad or against him; ISIS is your enemy, so it’s not about Assad.” 
Also left unresolved was the critical question of which groups would be considered terrorist organizations and which legitimate members of the opposition would be included in the political transition talks, an issue that the diplomats agreed to work on in the days ahead.
Not good. Yet in the Rubin and Barnard story about French airstrikes on the caliphate's capital of Raqqa, there is some hopeful news that the West is finally getting serious:
There is a growing focus on both reducing the Islamic State’s territory and its financing, said French government officials and experts. 
“We need to push the organization away from its territories,” said Jean Charles Brisard, a terrorism expert, who worked in the French government and now is the chairman for the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, a Paris-based research group. 
“Most of its resources are from the territory, so we have to push it away from its resources in Syria and Iraq and that means going in on the ground with a regional power,” he said.
The United States currently has soldiers on the ground in Iraq working with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds to dislodge the Islamic State. France has not yet said whether it will adopt a similar course. 
On Sunday, Mr. Hollande met his predecessor and rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, at the Élysée Palace. Afterward, Mr. Sarkozy urged decisive action against the Islamic State — a position Mr. Hollande has also taken. 
“We need everybody in order to exterminate Daesh,” Mr. Sarkozy told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
We'll see. A danger here is this "going in on the ground with a regional power" could be the green light that Erdogan has been looking for all along -- a buffer zone in northern Syria. Erdogan is going to get his billions and his special session in Brussels for Turkey. He has been playing his cards like a poker shark.

So despite hints here and there of a shift, it looks like business as usual. It is going to take a shift in Europe away from the United States and closer to Russia and China to bring about real change. That is not going to happen unless there is a cracking of the European Union. Something that "business as usual" is rapidly bringing about. Look for Marine Le Pen in 2017.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #8


Over a year ago I visited Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. Being a working stiff has a way of distracting a person. Last weekend I returned to the title -- both the writing and the art supplied by Canadian powerhouse Kaare Andrews -- and got weepy reading issue #8. Danny Rand, a.k.a., Iron Fist, journeys to Diyu, the realm of the dead, to rescue his mother.

If the superhero is a nihilist fantasy of autogenesis, what does that mean for the mother? A couple weeks back I mentioned that the superhero comic book is a way for the adolescent to come to grips with the absorption of his childhood into the adult world. An example of this is the Batman origin tale, in which the primary event is the street stickup murder of Bruce Wayne's parents. Iron Fist's origin is a variation on this with a conniving, lustful business partner standing in for the stickup man, and the location, rather than the dark streets of a Depression-era Gotham, is the snowy, icy peaks leading to the mystical city of K'un L'un.

In the six scans below, Iron Fist fights his way through the demons of Diyu to find his mother. But when he tells her, "Come on. Let's go." She declines. There is no going back.






Friday, November 13, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: L7's Smell the Magic (1990)

The myth of progressive history is here refuted. The idea, championed by Christians, capitalists, Hegelians, Marxists, Nazis, you name it, that, primarily because of a technology, maybe Geist, maybe Christ, history is moving in an ascendant direction to greater perfection, can be junked irrefutably by viewing the two videos below, two versions of L7, the all-women Los Angeles Grunge rock quartet, performing "Pretend We're Dead" in 1992. The first, is the ballyhooed L7 appearance on the English television program "The Word," famous because lead vocalist Donita Sparks bared her ass and bush at the end of the song; the second, is an incendiary performance on The David Letterman Show:



Something has been lost. Nothing today can come close to this. We -- and when I say "we" I mean Western society -- are incapable of producing anything as powerful, fun, hopeful, self-deprecating as L7 in the band's prime.

I first heard L7 when "Pretend We're Dead" came on the radio in the kitchen of a house I rented in a rundown neighborhood in San Antonio the summer of 1993. The house was a few blocks from San Antonio College. San Antonio College had a radio station with an eclectic programming mix; Friday nights featured a show devoted to contemporary rock 'n' roll. It was a couple of hours of pure Grunge.

At this time, late summer of 1993, Grunge was approaching its zenith. After Cobain's suicide the following spring, Grunge would collapse in a year or two due to the insatiable greed of the recording industry promoting bands like Hootie & the Blowfish as the next Nirvana.

L7, slang for "square," was an essential band during the Age of Grunge. Hard-partying women who could out-cock-rock the greatest cock rockers (or, to crib a line from "Fast and Frightening," "Got so much clit she don't need no balls") I used to enjoy reading about them in SPIN magazine. They were honest about using a rhyming dictionary when writing lyrics. They didn't take themselves too seriously -- like the New York Dolls, except they were actually women -- but they were a serious band. They began Rock for Choice, a pro-choice benefit concert series that ran throughout the 1990s.

I decided to devote this morning's post to L7 because they reformed recently and our on tour now. They were in town at the beginning of the month. But most importantly they are my age, of my generation, and the generation of my old flame who is locked in a neck-and-neck race for a city council district that looks to be headed for a recount; that, and they are the cultural progeny of Patti Smith.

I had copies of L7's best known albums Bricks Are Heavy (1992) -- the record on which "Pretend We're Dead" appears -- and Hungry for Stink (1994). But I was unfamiliar with their earlier work, the eponymous 1988 debut album and the follow-up EP, Smell the Magic, released on Sub Pop at the end of the summer of 1990.


I got both over the weekend and have been listening to them all week, but mostly Smell the Magic (famous also for the t-shirt):


It is a great record. Christgau gives it an 'A':
Generalizing the hostile "Shove" with the balls-to-the-wall "Fast and Frightening," dissecting everybody else's suicidal tendencies on "Deathwish" before joining the fun on "'Till the Wheels Fall Off," humping a "Broomstick" as a preamble to "Packin' a Rod," these clitocentric trouble girls are everything the Runaways were supposed to be. Afraid of nothing including the four-syllable F-word, they go for an obsessive, dirty, punk pop-metal so aggressive it'll scare damn near every sister in sight. But the bravest will grow stronger. Soon they'll tell others. And start their own bands. And conquer the world. Right? A
But back to this idea of history moving in a regressive direction. Grunge was an attempt at a grand synthesis of Hippie and Punk, something I think it accomplished here and there, certainly in the case of L7's prime.

Then along came Riot Grrl, and things got preachy and precious and lost their sense of humor. The music market tended toward greater and greater segmentation. Interestingly, the recording industry today survives as an ever-diminishing corporate behemoth thanks to the continuing cross-over popularity of three young women artists: Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce.

Everyone knows today we're nowhere. Everyone subliminally understands the planetary crisis we're in. Things seem hopeless. And when things seem hopeless, it is hard to muster up any energy. That's why I say we can't match what L7 put out there 23-years ago. We don't have the time or the space -- after each economic downturn since the early '90s it has been more difficult for young people to find housing and work in the urban milieu while pursuing creative endeavors -- to articulate a counter culture. I think Grunge, however brief, was really the last time. Maybe now Black Lives Matter. But seeing that old video of "Pretend We're Dead" I can't help feeling some generational pride.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Shocks to the European Union

The European Union is facing a wide array of challenges, and not just the blow back from the cracking apart of the Middle East. Several developments this past week point to a series of shocks ahead for the continental union.

First, I should say that I think that the EU is an institution that serves the United States. The way it works is that you create a political union that is subordinate to the economic union, and the economic union answers to Germany. Germany answers to the United States in foreign policy matters. So in a series of short steps you have a huge continent-sized economy that eclipses the U.S. but is politically supine at its feet.

The left has to give up for the time being on its European Dream of progressive government in Brussels. It is not going to happen before several shocks shake the shack.

Shock #1: Anti-austerity government is coming to Portugal.  Despite headlines early last month touting the first-place finish of the coalition of Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho as a great vindication of austerity, the conservatives were unable to form a government. Now it will be up to the left anti-austerity bloc, led by the Socialists but also including the long-resistant-to-left-leaning-coalitions Communist Party, to form a government, assuming that conservative president, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, allows them to. He might ask Passos Coelho to remain at the head of a caretaker government until new elections can be held next year.

Waiting until new elections is likely the preferred outcome for the elites who preside over governance in Brussels. Despite the object lesson that Greece was supposed to provide for all the restless natives who didn't wanted to accept a pauperized future of ever-increasing austerity, it is apparent the citizens of another European nation are ready to tilt again at the neoliberal consensus.

As Raphael Minder pointed out last week, "Rising Left Bloc in Portugal Could Threaten Austerity Drive," if the left bloc is successful at forming a government in Portugal, this points the way to a fall of the conservative, pro-austerity Popular Party in Spain:
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain, who champions austerity, hopes to get re-elected, but most polls show his Popular Party falling short of keeping its parliamentary majority. That raises the possibility that the Spanish could end up in a similar situation to that of the Portuguese. 
“The Iberian left is forming alliances against those in power and trying to create governments of losers,” said Pablo Casado, a conservative lawmaker who is spokesman for Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party. “This could also happen in Spain.” 
At the very least, Portugal’s political deadlock has signaled the deep divisions the austerity debate continues to generate. 
“You can have an election where there is no winner, only losers,” said Mr. Cabral, the economics professor. “Which is an odd situation in a democracy.”
Shock #2: Spain Splits Over Catalan Independence. Despite a ruling from the Spanish constitutional court, the parliament of Catalonia is moving full speed to independence. How is that for a shock to the system?

Shock #3: Greece Burns. Today the first general strike directed at the once "great leftist hope" Syriza government shows that Alexis Tsipras' capitulation to the troika bought Brussels maybe six months.

Shock #4: Brexit. Cameron published the list of demands that Conservatives need met in order to support remaining in the EU. Wishy washy and ready-made for fudging is how I would characterize them. The main item garnering attention is reduced welfare payments for immigrants. I don't see how the referendum on remaining in the EU passes.

Shock #5: Walls Go Up. Slovenia is the latest country to erect a border wall in Europe. So much for the promise of an "ever closer union."