Friday, March 28, 2008

God Bless America

Charlie "Bird" Parker, the greatest alto sax player of all time, and his band.

For some reason, this clip fills me with national pride. This is truly American music: fresh, brave, experimental, improvisational, new, and joyful.

In what is probably an appropriate twist, the clip is actually dubbed, and they're miming to a recording they had made before.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New York Has Totally Jumped the Shark

See! They're both BLACK!

The NYT continues its jihad against Obama with an article about Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts:
Gov. Deval Patrick has lately addressed doting crowds around the country as a surrogate for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, his friend and fellow gifted orator. Last month, Mr. Obama even acknowledged borrowing language from Mr. Patrick’s stump speeches, casting a flattering light on a novice politician barely known outside Massachusetts.

But there is no such glow at home for Mr. Patrick, the first Democrat to lead his state in 16 years and the nation’s second elected black governor.

Mr. Patrick, who easily won office in 2006 after dazzling voters with a message of hope and change, suffered a nasty defeat last week at the hands of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which quashed his proposal to increase revenues by allowing three resort casinos in the state. None of the governor’s major policy proposals have cleared the Legislature, in fact, and he and Salvatore DiMasi, the speaker of the House, have taken to trading barbs publicly.

Mr. Patrick is faring better than a year ago, when he was under siege for spending more than $10,000 on drapes for his State House office and upgrading his state car from a Ford Crown Victoria to a Cadillac. (He later agreed to reimburse the state for the drapes and part of the car lease.) By his third month in office, Mr. Patrick had announced that his wife was being treated for depression, and by his fourth, he had overhauled his staff.

Do you get the connections? Do you, huh? do you? Patrick "dazzl[ed] voters with a message of hope and change," he wanted a Cadillac, got fancy pimped-out drapes for his TOTALLY BLACK PERSON office. . . HE'S BLACK LIKE OBAMA! DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOSNIA "MISSPEAK"! Do we have to spell it out for you monkeys? Patrick sucks; Patrick is totally black just like Obama; therefore, Obama will suck. IT'S A SYLLOGISM, BITCHES. Time to GET REAL. Stop being "dazzled" by the fancy-talking black people and vote for the lying, Iraq-war-authorizing, Iran-war-threatening Hillary Clinton. She may not be fancy or dazzling or speak real pretty-like or tell the truth, but she is NOT BLACK. And she works real hard all the time, at 3 a.m., tearing Obama down, to save you. That's why she's "sleep-deprived" and making shit up.

Hey, I've figured out how this syllogism thing works. Let's see . . . Hillary's last name is Clinton. She's married to Bill, whose last name is also Clinton. Bill got impeached and was useless for the final term of his presidency because he thought it would be a good idea to get blown in the Oval Office by a twenty-something intern. So Hillary will probably do some crazy-ass shit, too. Right?

Also, can we now have some stories examining how unappealing, millionaire, grating, screeching, humorless old white female politicians serving as surrogates for Hillary totally sucked in office, and suggesting that, therefore, Hillary would suck in office, too? Please?

Starting the countdown to a SNL skit sympathetic to Hillary starring Amy Poehler and some guy in blackface . . . .

Moving out of New York was the best thing I ever did.

You go, girl!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This Just Gets Better and Better

Hilarious. If there is justice in the world, this really should be the bottomless well of mendacity in which the Clinton campaign will be drowned.

I really love the part where Clinton is in her shamrock scarf and gets that nasty, harsh, don't-fuck-with-me-I-will-rip-your-face-off look and belligerently says (in her best "SHAME ON YOU", end of story, that's the bottom line voice) -- "and that's what happened." So don't fucking question her, because she's telling you what FUCKING HAPPENED. She's Hillary Clinton, and YOU DO NOT QUESTION HER, you bitches. And she's doing her autistic nod thing, which makes everything she says TOTALLY FUCKING TRUE AND RIGHT. All of which is totally great and awesome, except, of course, that she's totally making shit up. Sometimes we call that, oh, I don't know, LYING YOUR ASS OFF.

But, of course, she should still win because, you know, she appeals to racist people who are uncomfortable about the brown guy who Hillary is not quite sure is not a Muslim. *Shudder*. And she has lots of experience. Have you heard about her landing in sniper fire in war-torn Bosnia?

This may be a classic example of a politician getting high on her own stash (i.e., believing the bullshit lie she's been repeating for months and months). Can someone tell me what the point of the Hillary Clinton for President campaign is at this point?

Also, I'd like to make a wager that those fuckheads and Al Jolson-types at SNL will not put together a heartless skit skewering Clinton on this.

Ready on Day One . . .

to blow smoke up your ass.

Isn't that just what we need, after eight years of the delusional/fictional universe of George W. Bush? Another eight years of delusional/fictional bullshit?

I don't think so.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hillary Clinton Proving That She Really Doesn't Think Words Matter

Or facts, reality, documentary evidence, etc. . . .

This is just disgusting. Welcome back to Clintonland. Population 3. The rest of us can eat shit and die.

This Will Be Me

Just give me a few months....

These guys are some of the best amateurs I've seen on YouTube. They've both got amazing tone and technique. I want to be them.

Over the weekend I learned "Oh, Canada" and "Hatikva" (the Israeli national anthem). (I also got the high-D on my sax fixed at a local music store -- for free! Some day soon I will have to post about the universal ethos and esprit de corps of local music stores everywhere.) Today, I ordered a Beatles songbook on-line; I'm looking forward to getting that in the next few days. Once I'm getting better, I'll post some songs.

Maybe I'll start practicing in our laundry room.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

I first heard of Ronald Reagan in 1981, in first grade. The Weekly Reader we got every Friday during a mid-afternoon snack time had his face on the front with the headline: "Meet our Fortieth President!".

An unintentionally ironic exhibit in the "Legacy" room of the museum; a flat screen talking head of Reagan behind an empty podium; paging Gary Trudeau.

The Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley did not elevate my understanding of Reagan, his life, his administration, his policies, or his legacy much beyond that issue of Weekly Reader. That's probably not really the fault of the creators of this museum. Many have noted that it was hard to figure out what -- if anything -- was going on inside Reagan's head. In writing his deeply controversial biography of Reagan, Edmund Morris apparently became so frustrated trying to learn anything about the character or mind of his subject that he resorted to fiction. Morris complained that, in writing the book, he had begun to despair that there was nothing to say about the man and his character because there was nothing really there.

Reagan was, by all accounts, an exceedingly simple -- perhaps simplistic -- man, endowed with a Hollywood visage, excellent hair, and a child-like view of the world. The museum perfectly conveys these aspects of Reagan. Everything is surface level and elementary school fun. There is Air Force One (you can go inside!), there's Marine One, there are those big black Secret Service Suburbans, and, revealingly, there's even an LAPD police car and motorcycle, just because those kinds of things will excite people who get excited about Marine One. There's the "historical artifact" (perfectly encapsulating the story of Reagan) of the Notre Dame sweater worn by Knut Rockne given as a gift to Reagan at the end of his term in recognition of his role in the movie Knut Rockne - All American, playing George Gipp. There are the television clips from Reagan's time as a spokesperson for General Electric. There's a mock-up of his Oval Office. There's a six-minute movie about flying on Air Force One and Reagan marvelling how it's always on time. There's the hat he wore at Camp David. Etc.

"Peace Through Strength" hats and T-shirts in the gift shop. There were also lots of jellybeans.

For some reason, much of the museum and its exhibits emphasizes stuff Reagan ate. He (famously) ate jellybeans. This is mentioned many times. The short film on Air Force One has an interview with the Air Force One chef, who talks about how, before a long trip to a strange land (e.g., China, Russia, Korea), he would often prepare a "simple hamburger" for the President. During the walk-through on Air Force One, the docents make a point of pointing out the china used on the plane. There is, for some reason, a fake chocolate cake ready for serving at the back of the plane. There's a mock-up of some pub in Ireland where Reagan once drank a pint of ale while exploring his Irish roots. And so on. I found this emphasis on food interesting, and thought it was likely part of the museum's effort to present Reagan as a lovable, noncontroversial figure: everyone loves hamburgers, jellybeans, and cake. Better to talk about that than the S&L crisis or AIDS. (Also, in the official "Reagan Country Cafe", I had an order of "Stealth" fries, and Mrs. Octopus had an "F-14 Fighter Dog with Cheese".)

The ideological message of the museum (if not to say propaganda) is not as dramatic as I would've expected. There is no anger or harshness in the message; rather, Reagan's life and work is presented as if there could never be (or have been) any controversy involved. There is little to nothing about Iran-Contra. There is nothing about the controversies surrounding Reaganomics. There is, revealingly, scarce mention of his first marriage to Jane Wyman. (To this day, Reagan remains our first and only divorced President -- McCain would be the second.) Instead, this is a museum for the true believers, in which Reagan is an idealized, perfect figure. Which is appropriate. He was playing the President, and that role was designed to be a flawless one. So we get a piece of the Berlin Wall standing out with a rolling California valley and blue sky behind it; this is what Reagan did for us. He brought down the "Evil Empire" and allowed the world to be free -- for global capitalism and the invisible hand of the market. The menace of communism -- a threat to freedom, and, not to mention, the sponsors and corporate patrons to the Reagan museum and library (see, e.g., Boeing, Coca-Cola, et al.) -- was faced down by Reagan, and we, and the other beneficiaries of unbridled capitalism, are to be thankful for that.

A portion of the Berlin Wall on the museum grounds; perhaps neo-cons come up to the monolith and stroke it in hopes of learning how to defeat "Islamofascism".

It is undeniable, as Barack Obama controversially observed earlier this year, that Reagan had a profound influence on the course of American politics. And even liberals should be able to acknowledge that Reagan was able to have this effect because of his undeniable charisma, his ability to present his message, and his appeal to the native optimism of Americans.

More unintentional irony: a flower arrangement in the form of a nuclear fallout warning with a dancing elephant bush at the center.

With no doubt, the damage Reagan did was also profound: his radically conservative Supreme Court picks (see, e.g., Antonin Scalia), his war on regulation [warning: Cato Institute link], his regressive tax cuts, his slashing of the social safety net, his escalation of military spending, the illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua, etc.

But despite this troubling legacy, I suspect that, like myself, others in my generation who grew up in the 80's will always hold -- despite their better judgment -- a complicated affection for Reagan. He was an easy President for third graders to like. He had great hair, looked good on TV, and vowed to take down an Evil Empire. We all got that. Most of us are in a very different place now; we began to learn in junior high school of the depradations and darker sides of Morning in America (TM), and those lessons have been reinforced ever since. But, despite ourselves, I think many in my generation, like myself, were saddened when we read Reagan's November 5, 1994 letter about his Alzheimer's diagnosis, and heard of his death in the summer of 2004. For better or worse, Ronald Reagan was the face of America during our youth, and that cannot be changed; that will always be with us.

We're looking forward to our next Presidential library visit: the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our New Century

I was taking out some large, empty water-cooler bottles tonight, and as I carried them, they bumped together gently, vibrating with a satisfying, deep, plastic percussive tone. I banged them together a couple more times -- the empty bottles sounded like some kind of vaguely ceremonial/ritualistic instruments. It sounded like someone was about to be circumcised at 13, or maybe teenagers having sex would be ritualistically smashed between logs, and their remains then roasted and eaten.*

Actually, it didn't really sound like either of those things was going to happen -- maybe more like someone was about to get Laser Eye Surgery while the rest of us watched on closed-circuit TV.

This was obviously very Burning Man, but I imagined for a second that the image of a man in jeans and glasses slowly banging two empty plastic water bottles together in his driveway under a smoggy night sky was a perfect one for this point in history.

* I think I recall the crushing and roasting teens ritual from Joseph Campbell's Power of Myth or Hero with a Thousand Faces (can't remember which), although I may be hallucinating the entire thing; I don't have a copy of either book handy. If anyone can confirm that he does mention something like this somewhere, that would help put my mind at ease (and make me feel less creepy and perverse).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Live from Osaka

Alto sax player Otoe, live in Osaka

This is the kind of thing that makes me believe the universe is, ultimately, good.


I just played the saxophone for the first time in sixteen years. It's going to be a long road back. Somehow, I remember the notes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Soothing the savage beast

Exciting news: I am probably buying a used alto saxophone tomorrow. I found the saxophone on Craigslist; the transaction is going down at lunchtime in front of Disney Hall tomorrow. The whole thing has a delicious, vaguely illicit haze hovering around it. The best part is that I will return from lunch with a saxophone.

I played the alto saxophone for about three years, starting in fourth grade, before upgrading (or downgrading, depending) to the baritone sax in junior high. I played the bari through the end of high school. To my eternal regret, I did not keep playing in college. It was an adjustment shifting to the bari, but moving out of the row of six alto sax players into my own special, unique baritone saxophone seat was well worth it. I don't miss the alto too much, but I do miss the bari; I would buy a baritone, but they're too expensive; no one has a used baritone sax to sell. Also, I don't know if I still have the necessary lung capacity or back and neck strength.

I think I'll work my way back on the alto for a little while and then move to the tenor, which I've never played. The market is flooded with tenors.

I'm a little worried about what kind of sheet music I can get for the alto sax. Most of the music I've seen for saxophone was written for bands. I've never really played the saxophone alone; I was always in band or jazz band or whatever. I may have to just improvise. I used to venture out on the occasional baritone sax solo in jazz band in high school. My solos were always sort of dopey and hulking with no hint of virtuosity; I used to tell myself that that was how bari solos were meant to be.

Anyhow, I'm very excited about this. When I was a kid and in a bad mood -- I was often in inexplicable, sulky, depressive moods -- my mom would send me to my room to practice the recorder (long story that I will tell some day) or the saxophone. She said I would feel better after practicing. And I always did.

Okay, that was cheesy, but I think that's okay.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Coming American Banana Republic

Reversal of Capital Flows, Yochanan Simon (from this site)

Ben Bernanke and much of the Fed worked feverishly over the weekend to help arrange an emergency loan and deal finalized tonight to allow JP Morgan to purchase the once-mighty Bear Stearns for two dollars a share; Bear was on the verge of complete collapse.

Add to this the seemingly unrelated reports about the skyrocketing price of wheat. Crop failures around the world combined with a rising demand for wheat in newly emerging super-economies have driven the price up; exports of American wheat are way up: the dollar is low, and American wheat seems cheap to other nations. This situation -- our nation's harvest being snatched up by foreigners as prices rise here -- brought to my mind the scenario depicted in the excellent Darwin's Nightmare, in which the fish of Lake Victoria are caught and processed by the Tanzanians, but nearly all of that fish is flown out of the country to Europe and Japan; the foreign demand renders the fish too expensive for the Tanzanian locals.

These latest and deeply ominous developments in the American economy brought to mind this passage from Slavoj Zizek:
How, then, does the universe of Capital relate to the form of Nation-State in our era of global capitalism? Perhaps this relationship is best designated as "auto-colonization": with the direct multifunctioning of Capital, we are no longer dealing with the standard opposition between metropolis and colonized countries; a global company, as it were, cuts its umbilical cord with its mother-nation and treats its country of origin as simply another territory to be colonized . . . . [T]he new multinationals have exactly the same attitude towards the French or American local population as they do towards the population of Mexico, Brazil or Taiwan. Is there not a kind of poetic justice in this self-referential turn? Today's global capitalism is thus again a kind of "negation of negation", after national capitalism and its internationalist/colonialist phase. At the beginning (ideally, of course), there is capitalism within the confines of a Nation-State, with the accompanying international trade . . . .; what follows is the relationship of colonization in which the colonizing country subordinates and exploits . . . the colonized country; the final moment of this process is the paradox of colonization in which there are only colonies, no colonizing countries -- the colonizing power is no longer a Nation-State but directly the global company. In the long term, we shall all not only wear Banana Republic shirts, but also live in banana republics.
"Multiculturalism", New Left Review 225, 1997, pp. 28-51 (emphasis added).

It is becoming more and more apparent that we are watching the descent of the United States from global hegemon into just another of Zizek's colonies. (See also Toyota plants in Kentucky, Indian-Americans children of immigrants to America returning to India, where better work is available, etc.) In Zizek's framework, J.P. Morgan is the global company, the very embodiment of global Capital detached from any mother-country; in the dramatic events this weekend, global Capital exercised its power over (one of) its temporary host colonies, to extract further resources -- all of this to strengthen and serve global Capital. What will this $30 billion loan get the host (i.e., the United States)? Who's to say? Although, it is worth noting that global Capital has few if any roots, and can always tell which way the wind is blowing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Democracy: the Clinton Way

Fat-cat Floridian donors to the Clinton campaign are exerting serious pressure on the DNC to either seat Florida's delegates or hold a revote in the state. This pressure mostly involves these moneyed types demanding that the DNC return their huge donations to the national party if these fat-cats don't get what they want.

Friday, March 14, 2008

War Elephants

I've always been intrigued by the idea of war elephants. Elephants were first tamed and put to military use in India, it seems. Over time, and especially during India's Maurya Empire, thousands of elephants were put into military service. The Indian army of the Maurya Empire reportedly thwarted an incursion launched by Alexander the Great by arriving at the battlefield with a line of 9,000 war elephants; the sight sent panic and fear through Alexander's troops. Alexander was so impressed by Indian war elephants that he later sold a portion of Indian territory under Greek control back to the Indians in exchange for 500 war elephants.

War elephants were later famously deployed in Europe by Hannibal in the Second Punic War against the Romans; according to historical accounts, Hannibal led a troop of war elephants from Iberia, over the Pyrenees and the Alps, and into northern Italy to attack the Romans.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My name is Hillary and I'm here to say, I like amateur videos in every way . . . .

I have nothing to say about this video made by enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters:

My friends, flashbacks are very real . . . .

Apologies for the long hiatus. I've been meaning to post this bizarre John McCain video, memorably described by someone as giving a sense of what it would feel like to be Norman Podhoretz on shrooms:

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hillary Clinton: Bad for America

It's becoming more and more obvious that the Clinton Campaign purposefully darkened Obama's skin tone, and stretched out his face (to widen his nose and thicken his features) to make him look blacker.

Gee, Hillary, thanks for going there. Clinton supporters, congratulations: this is the good work of your candidate.

Hey, Hillary -- Release your tax returns already! Are you still "too busy" to do so? What are you hiding?

Release your papers from your time as First Lady! What are you hiding?

Hey, Hillary -- Name one foreign crisis you have ever dealt with. If you had to pick up that stupid red phone that doesn't exist at 3 a.m., would you not be dealing with your first foreign crisis ever? Where is your vaunted foreign policy experience? You did go on an international trip with Sinbad and Cheryl Crow when you were First Lady. Maybe you could go defuse future foreign crises with Carrot Top and Avril Levine.

From Wonkette

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Fight Worth Winning

Let's be honest: it's hard to put a good spin on the results tonight for the Obama campaign. Ohio and Texas, just like Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland, and Missouri, are states that matter, and tonight represents a significant victory for the Clinton campaign.

It's fair to point out that the Clinton campaign attained this victory by complaining about the media, playing on the fears of the voters, putting out ads that darkened Obama's skin tone to make him "blacker", releasing the "Obama in a turban picture", and engaging in shameful (on several levels) innuendo about Obama's faith (see 60 Minutes clip below).

If you are a Clinton supporter and reading this, I would just ask that you take a moment and consider that these are the actions of your candidate and her campaign. She is currently running an almost entirely negative campaign. But it is a free country, and if this is who you want representing you, and if these are the tactics you are willing to support, Godspeed to you and your chosen candidate.

As for the Obama campaign, from this point on, it is now time to move beyond attempts to conduct a campaign that refuses to do anything that looks like it might be stooping to Clinton's level. We will not be swift-boated by Hillary Clinton. If they want to "draw distinctions", we should draw distinctions. Let's ask the following questions:
  • You loaned your campaign $5 million dollars recently. Where did that money come from? Why won't you release your tax returns, as Obama has? What are you hiding?
  • How much money has Bill Clinton made in overseas deals in the past several years? What are the details of his $31.3 million haul in arranging a uranium deal in Kazakhstan?
  • Your red phone 3 a.m. call is interesting. What foreign policy crisis have you ever dealt with? What did you do?
  • Why did you vote against a ban on the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas in 2006?
  • Why did you vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment in 2007, which urged the President to designate the Iranian army a terrorist organization, giving Bush and Cheney the pretext they need to start yet another war in the Middle East?
  • Why didn't you read the N.I.E. before voting for war in Iraq?
  • What exactly are your "35 years of experience"? Did you not spend 15 years in a corporate law firm working on behalf of large corporations like Wal-Mart?
  • Did you not sit on the board of Wal-Mart from 1986 to 1992 during which time Wal-Mart sought to destroy unions?
  • What are the precise details and specifics of the "experience" you gained while your husband was president?
If Clinton wants distinctions, let's give her distinctions.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bill Clinton Makes the Case for Obama

Four years ago....

"As far as I know."

This is so patently, transparently fake and disingenuous. Hillary Clinton and her campaign are engaging in the worst, lowest, dirtiest type of campaigning. They are relying on insinuations and hints and damaging photos, combined with totally bullshit denials and protestations of innocent intent, to try to smear Barack Obama with the sin of smelling vaguely Muslim.

This kind of politics of fear, on top of her war-mongering, her negativity, and her misrepresentations and whisper campaigns against Obama, is simply unforgivable.

The Politics of Hope

Another participant-created video for Obama. This is our campaign.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The View from the Tank: We Are the Ones (2008)

Hat tip to the middle brother Octopus for tipping me off to the new video.

When I was a kid, I used to play this game where I would take a word and repeat it, over and over, hundreds of times, until the word no longer had any connection to the original object it signified. I remember doing this with the word "spoon"; I would sit and repeat the word "spoon" for five or six minutes, sometimes while holding a spoon. After a little while of doing this, the word became detached from the object of the spoon; it became a free-floating thing that meant either nothing or something totally different. The game was fun because it was so disorienting and made commonplace things seem strange. (Kids enjoy games that involve disorientation. Other favorite games of mine included spinning one way to make myself dizzy, and then another to counter the dizziness, and lying on my back upside down and pretending to walk across the ceiling.)

When I first saw this new video, I was a little turned off. It appeared to contain some of the worst aspects of us Obama supporters: self-congratulatory hipsters looking stylish while chanting "Obama" in apparent thrall to some personality cult. I thought Jessica Alba sounded a little vacuous. There was all that looking down with eyes closed as the beat went on, the dancing idly in between shots, the hats, the endless stream of celebrities, etc. And I thought some of the people looked hypnotized.

Then I watched the video a couple more times.

I think it's significant that Obama does not appear in this video. The point of the video, it seems to me, is that the movement of the Obama campaign is not about one man: it is about a fantastic new participatory chapter in American politics -- perfectly encapsulated in this YouTube video created by participants in this movement. When the people in this video chant the name "Obama", when the massive stadium rally crowd chants "Obama", they are not chanting the name of just one man. In the course of this movement, as in my childhood game, the word "Obama" has become unmoored and detached from its original meaning: it no longer simply refers to the junior senator and presidential candidate from Illinois. Instead, it now refers to a movement, a movement that seeks to end the politics we have all suffered under for the last thirty years, to end the mentality that chooses war first, to move beyond the institutions that rely on the politics of fear. When the stadium crowd chants "Obama" in the electrifying loop that runs throughout this video, the crowd is declaring that it will no longer be afraid, that it chooses hope over fear, that it is now time for a new generation to take its place, and that our next President will represent the spirit, will, and boundless promise of our country.

When the crowd chants "Obama", it is chanting its own name.

So, yes, I do worry that this video, viewed superficially, can easily be dismissed as zombie hipster Obama supporters spouting platitudes and looking cool. But I do think the message is much deeper than that. It's about believing that we are the ones who will make our country the place we want it to be. Obama is the face of that movement, and "Obama" is the name of that movement.

O - BA - MA!