Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The City Of New Orleans

The thing about New Orleans is that it's so musical. And literary. And culinary. But first and foremost, musical. You can hardly go anywhere without hearing music: A saxophone/tuba/snare trio in Jackson Square; a brass band across the street from the French Market; a violin/guitar duo outside of Cafe du Monde; an in-store performance by jazz singer John Boutte at the Louisiana Music Factory. And make no mistake about it: They're all very good at what they do.

I could have and would have spent the morning at the Louisiana Music Factory were the store not stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with patrons waiting for Boutte's in-store appearance. Luckily for my sons' education, the crowd minimized my hopes of ransacking my bank account. Nonetheless, I was able to inflict significant damage to the bottom line.

You may ask, how do I know what to buy? Well, I don't know, usually. This trip, I've relied on local reviews, bands we happened to see, and knowledge of an act whose work will not be easily available in Seattle. It helps that the reviewers in Offbeat refrain from boosterism and have a commitment to critical integrity. Plus, the musical standards, not to mention the talent level, in New Orleans are so exalted that it's worth taking a chance or two. The musicians have a command of a variety of genres unequalled in any other city I know of. My finds are as indicative of this as anything else:  

Big Sam's Funky Nation: Peace, Love & Understanding (funk)
John Boutte: Good Neighbor (jazz)
Smoky Greenwell and the Blues Gnus: Between Iraq and a Hard Place (blues)
Donald Harrison Jr., Indian Blues (jazz)
Hot 8 Brass Band, Rock With The Hot 8 (jazz)
Sonny Landreth, Blues Attack (blues)
Lost Bayou Ramblers: A la Blue Moon (zydeco/country)
Mother Tongue: Cafe Sessions (jazz/folk)
Zachary Richard: Bayou des Mysteres, High Time: The Elektra Recordings, Live in Montreal (Acadian folk/zydeco)
Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars: The La Louisiane Sessions (Cajun rock -- the Los Lobos of Louisiana)
Adonis Rose And The N. O. Vaders, Untouchable (jazz)
Ann Savoy and Her Sleepless Knights: If Dreams Come True (jazz a la Paris cafes)
Paul Sanchez: Exit to Mystery Street (singer-songwriter/rock)
Cedric Watson: Cedric Watson (zydeco)

Mother Tongue I had never heard of in my life until we stopped in at Cafe du Monde this afternoon for beignets and cafe au lait. The strains of a melancholy violin and guitar swirled around the mounds of confectioner's sugar, infusing the day with a pleasing sense of longing as they segued from Bizet to Bob Marley as naturally as the sun rises. Taken with the perfect spring day and the pleasant buzz of a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane, and the loving constancy of Premium T., Mother Tongue offered a soundtrack for the ineffable. Listening to their CD will ever transport me back to that wonderful New Orleans afternoon of April 28, 2o08.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Plan B

Hopes were high as we awoke yesterday morning -- high, but tempered with the memory of the previous day's downpour. Accordingly, we armed ourselves with caution instead of sunscreen and decided to see how the day progressed before heading out to the fairgrounds. 

After breakfast served by a hungover waitress who missed no opportunity to display her cleavage, a joyful Premium T. lead me to the Kitchen Witch, a cookbook store on Rampart Street. The Kitchen Witch features cookbooks used and new along with the company and counsel of owner Philip Lamancusa. We settled on two books, including a reprint of the 1824 culinary classic Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook. In it, you can -- among other things --learn how to prepare fried calf's feet over an open fire. We also picked up the beautifully designed The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Contintent (Jessica B. Harris).   

From there, we moved on to Faulkner House Books, a wonderful shop the specializes in Southern literature and special editions. I wish I could say that I showed some restraint, but I did not. I found a copy of Yoknapatawpha, a collection of photographs of Faulkner's native Lafayette County (Mississippi) with quotations from his books. Beneath one photo of a mourning family is the caption, "If the choice is grief or nothing, I will take grief." That is the kind of writing that lands you a Nobel Prize. 

We wandered over to French Market, starting to think that we might be able to go to the Fairgrounds after all. I found a couple of CDs. We stopped to watch a street brass band. Thunder crashed. We decided to stay put and went to a hole-in-the-wall called Fiorella's for lunch. Thunder boomed again and the rain came down for real. We decided against the Fairgrounds once and for all, and it's a good thing we did: A man at another table, after taking a phone call from a friend at the festival, announced the presence of 40-foot pools of water and trenches flooded waist-deep.

The rain eventually let up, and around 9:00 we took a cab to the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n Bowl.We drove through a sobering stretch of Canal Street, with block after block of shut down, boarded up businesses.  The Rock 'n Bowl combines a bowling alley with a stage and is partially illuminated with Christmas lights. It was great to see a largely middle-aged crowd boogie-ing the night away. Seattle is too buttoned-down for such shenanigans, but luckily not the Big Easy. We caught a terrific set from the Louisiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, plus got some really cool bowling shirts embroidered with our names.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

Whatever its considerable powers undoubtedly are, the skull amulet we bought at Jazz Fest emanated too little mojo to ward off yesterday's rain.

Rain slickers were there for the taking, or at least a moderate price. Any number of French Quarter stores and street vendors outside of Jazz Festival hawked them for anyone who wanted one. For a time, we could have bought a pair on the Festival grounds. But did we? Of course not! As a result we scurried for cover like rats to a floating ship when the few trivial raindrops that had been our constant companions suddenly transmogrified into a downpour. We tried waiting it out in the WWOZ courtesy tent and did wind up talking to nice people from Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Connecticut, and New Orleans. Well, at least we had the foresight to buy sunscreen.

We had even managed to catch a couple of nice sets from Chief Iron Horse and the Black Seminoles Mardi Gras Indians (who later gamely attempted to lead a parade through the encroaching muck) and Hadley J. Castille and the Sharecroppers Band. We also browsed the various craft shows and dropped a bundle at the book tent, which had an excellent select of Louisiana writing. 

The Mardi Gras Indians are a force of nature unto themselves. An elaborate hierarchy starting with the chief dances to a sort of funk beat underlying a verse-chant structure. They're probably at their most compelling leading a Mardi Gras parade, but the Black Seminoles were plenty impressive on a stage. They dress in fantastic hand-made and personally designed costumes that each member must spend a good part of the year leading up to Mardi Gras working on. (The wireless connection at the hotel isn't very good, preventing me from uploading the video I took.)

At one point, the rain appeared to let up. I set out from the tent in search of beer and slickers and wound up drenched and clutching a can of champagne. We downed the champagne and decided that the time had come to redefine our mission for the day. In practice, that meant decamping from Jazz Fest back to the Bourbon Orleans, tracking down an umbrella, drying out and resting, then strolling over to Tujague's for their six-course pris-fixe dinner. Tujague's has been around since 1856, and they have the dinner thing down pat: The appetizers are always shrimp remoulade, soup of the day, and brisket remoulade. You have a choice from from four entrees -- Premium T. chose the veal Oscar while I went for the drum (a Gulf fish) -- then a predetermined dessert (bread pudding with almonds and banana in this case). T. was impressed with the successful combination of cuisine and the efficient use of resources.

Citizen K. Read: New Orleans Noir, edited by Julie Smith

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jazz Festival, Here We Come!

Last night, we had six college-age kids over for dinner: Sons and friends of sons. They are terrific company and certainly appreciative of Premium T.'s considerable kitchen talents. Also, one son discovered last night that he made the (school) President's List. Yahoo!

Yesterday, I made the rounds at Elliott Bay Book Company and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We are off to New Orleans tomorrow, and I wanted to get some good Louisiana fiction. I settled on Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (one of those books I've always meant to read), James Sallis' Eye Of The Cricket, and a collection called New Orleans Noir.  We're going to Jazz Festival on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Midcity Lanes Rock 'n Bowl on Sunday night, dinner at Antoine's on Monday, and hopefully the Ponderosa Stomp on Tuesday. (We'll see what these middle-aged bones can tolerate.) We're staying at the Bourbon Orleans, on Bourbon Street a block from St Louis Cathedral.

We'd also like to witness the Katrina neighborhoods. There's a Grey Line bus tour, the idea of which is entirely too weird and creepy -- we'd feel like gawkers at a traffic accident. I contacted WWOZ; they encouraged us to visit the neighborhoods but stressed the desirability of taking a tour. It looks like there are some small operators that can get to some of the areas where buses are not allowed. We just don't want to go to New Orleans and look the other way. Most of the city remains devastated, and a big part of the problem is pretending it never happened.

After New Orleans, it's off to Kingsville and my father's 80th birthday. Five sons, three daughters-in-law, and at least seven of thirteen grandchildren will be there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tom Joad Lives

Although John Steinbeck never achieved the stylistic heights of Fitzgerald, Faulkner, or Hemingway, when he wrote The Grapes Of Wrath, he wrote one of the genuinely great American novels of the 20th Century. The epic of the Joad family resonates profoundly: Literally swept away by the Dust Bowl, the battered clan migrates west to the promised land of California only to find that themselves reviled and rejected by those who came before them. Fleeing the law, Tom Joad goes underground and by doing so transforms himself into an icon of the dispossessed. Henry Fonda as Tom famously captured this moment in the classic John Ford film. Tom attempts to assuage the fears of his worried, only half-understanding mother by assuring her that "Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there." He leaves his disintegrating family to merge with the larger family that lives "wherever you can look." He disappears into the night to reemerge as a solitary figure questing hopefully into the dawn:

Woody Guthrie captured the novel's Depression-era spirit of solidarity in his protest ballad "Tom Joad." Where the film's monologue stressed middle-class aspirations of "people...eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build," Guthrie turned his attention to a class army of the hungry, the weeping, and the disenfranchised. It's telling that in Ford's film, children laugh when they were hungry; in Guthrie's song, they cry. Where Ford's view is ultimately and unsurprisingly romantic, Guthrie -- an Okie himself -- retains a hard edge.

Post-war prosperity seemed to bear out Ford's vision, at least in part. But as Reaganomics and globalization began to suffocate the middle class like as boa constrictor, Tom Joad suddenly seemed as relevant as ever. In 1995, Bruce Springsteen updated the famous monologue in "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Here, the homeless huddle under a bridge, denied even the community of a migrant camp. A teeming road leads to poverty and exploitation. And yet, the singer won't surrender his anger even if it does depend on the fading hope of his belief in a ghost. Three years later, Rage Against The Machine released their own fiery take, keeping the ghost alive for a new generation.

For it seems that Tom Joad won't go away, even as the middle class dreams of the Ford film fade for millions. Recently, Rage guitarist Tom Morello joined Bruce Springsteen on stage for what must be the definitive performance of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad." Morello's soft voice combines with Springsteen's defiance and remarkable empathy to form an anthem culminating in a Morello guitar solo that captures all of the frustration and rage conveyed by the lyrics in a literal attempt to summon forth old Tom's ghost. A video of the performance made its way to YouTube, spreading Tom Joad's words in a way that Steinbeck or Ford of Guthrie could never have imagined:

You just can't keep a good man down...

The New York Times reports that tainted blood thinner manufactured in China has shown up in eleven countries. The Food and Drug Administration requires a budget of $56,000,000 to adequately inspect overseas drug manufacturers. While the Bush Administration hasn't budgeted for this, it does promise improvements. One place they could find the money is Iraq, where the money spent on two days of war would guarantee medication safety. Don't look to John McCain to solve the problem: His "intellectually dishonest" budget would slash discretionary spending to reduce the corporate tax rate and to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Citizen K. read:
Christine Falls, Benjamin Black
One Man's Place, John F. Deane

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Hell Of A Ride

One Hell Of A Ride, Willie Nelson (4 CDs). In 1972, a frustrated and unfulfilled Willie Nelson left Nashville to return to his native Texas and settle near Austin. A major talent who had already written bona fide classics "Night Life" and "Crazy," Nelson possessed what would soon be recognized as one of the richest and most versatile voices in popular music. He dedicated the first half of the Seventies to guiding country music back to a rootsier sound and to refining his inimitable voice. Nelson spent the latter part of the decade becoming an international star who rivalled Elvis Presley as an interpreter of popular music. After that, his restless musical spirit explored one genre after another with admittedly mixed results that nonetheless displayed a musical vision unmatched in its munificence of spirit. One Hell Of A Ride condenses Nelson's remarkable career -- now in its sixth decade -- into 100 songs that pretty much deliver on the promise of its title. Perhaps the most fascinating element of the collection is the evolution of his unique vocal style. From the beginning, Nelson confounded the Nashville establishment by lagging behind the beat, much like a jazz singer. In the Seventies, he began the practice of holding one or two notes before yielding to a sudden cascade that might cram seven or eight notes into the same space occupied by the previous one or two. He also added his faint tremolo, perfecting the overall effect in time for 1977's Stardust, a crossover megahit that put households everywhere on a first-name basis with him: He became simply "Willie" to people the world over. Which doesn't mean that he stopped making great music in 1977. One Hell Of A Ride proves this with generous samplings of his memorable duets with the likes of Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Emmylou Harris; several cuts from 1992's excellent Borderline; some fine gospel sides; and such unexpected delights as his 2001 interpretation of "Rainbow Connection." It has indeed been a hell of a ride, and the beauty is that it's not over: Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis recently announced that he and Willie planned a July release of a blues concert from earlier this year.

Live Cactus, Joe Ely/Joel Guzman. Live Cactus isn't the best Joe Ely live album -- that will always and forever be Live Shots, one the best live albums by anybody -- but it's a pleasure from beginning to end. Ely has had a long and, outside of Texas, underappreciated career. Once considered Texas music's answer to Bruce Springsteen, he has settled into a productive tenure as one of Austin's most respected performers and recorded many fine albums. Live Cactus sounds like nothing so much as a pair of South Austin neighbors entertaining themselves on the back deck on a summer evening. You can practically see the cooler of beer between them. Accompanied by ace accordianist Guzman, Ely works through a set of faves, putting a new twist on each of them.

Lumiere Dans Le Noir, Zachary Richard. Cajun singer-songwriter Zachary Richard's first French language album proves a great vehicle for his haunting, plangent voice. It doesn't matter if you don't speak French (I certainly do not). When someone can sing that most beautiful of Western languages with with as much feeling and insight as Richard, there's no difficulty understanding what he's getting at. With the help of some of Louisiana's finest musicians, you feel Lumiere Dans Le Noir in your heart and soul, which in the end is what great music is all about.

Notes From The Underground, Elliott Murphy. Paris ex-pat Murphy follows up last year's excellent Coming Home Again with another thoughtful, witty release. Murphy's voice -- sort of a cross between latterday Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler -- is perfect for his songwriting. Notes features literate lyrics that cover ground spanning the simple the joys of the alphabet ("A if for Amazed you walk out of the shower...F is a word I do without shame") to the spiritual plight of old age ("Tell me if you can/Am I part of a plan/Will my secrets unfold/When I'm useless and old.") On the other hand, this is a man grateful for what he has and who has come to appreciate the power of love: "I count all my blessings 'till I can't count no more/I know God's grace when I walk in your door." I try not to lean so heavily on lyrics when I write reviews, but this guy is awfully good and can speak for himself much better than I can. Listen, and listen closely.

Live From Artist's Den, Patty Griffin (DVD). Normally, it would be a great compliment to call someone Austin's best singer-songwriter. In Patty Griffin's case, though, this sells her short. Griffin is (hopefully) in the midst of a stretch of excellence comparable to Steve Earle's 1995-2000 run. Each CD she releases tops the one before it, culminating in last year's brilliant Children Running Through. Along the way, she's evolved from a terrific belter to a vocalist of inquisitive nuance and deep emotion. Now, you can see what its all about with this concert DVD, which intersperses brief interviews into a concert from New York's Artist Den. Check it out:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Barack Obama's Crime

A saloon in the Old West hires a Shakespearean actor to declaim a few lines from Othello. He arrives on the noon stage; a pair of town drunks waylay him immediately. They fire their guns at his feet and order him to dance while the whole town looks on. Through no fault of his own, the actor becomes the lead player in a demeaning spectacle. This pretty describes the gravitas level at Wednesday night's Pennsylvania primary debate.

Especially ridiculous was George Stephanopoulos' question about Barack Obama's connection to the Weather Underground:

"A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."

"An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?"

An incredulous Obama protested that "the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George."

Needless to say, Hillary Clinton disagreed, adding that "I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position."

Who is William Ayers? Today, he is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He's also an advisor to Chicago Mayor William Daly on education issues. He was once a member of the Weather Underground, and actually went underground after an accidental explosion at his apartment killed his girl friend and two others. Ayers and his new wife -- fellow radical Bernadine Dohrn -- surrendered themselves to authorities in 1980. All charges against them were dropped owing to prosecutorial misconduct. Unlike David Horowitz, another Sixties radical, Ayers retained the courage of his convictions while channeling his considerable intellect and energies in more constructive directions. For example, Mayor Daley selected him to lead Chicago's highly regarded school reform effort.

Let's take a close look at the exchange between Stephanopoulos, Obama, and Clinton. The September 11, 2oo1 edition of the New York Times did contain Ayers' provocative statement. However, for inclusion in that day's paper, Ayers must have made the statement prior to 9/11, when neither he nor anyone else outside of the Oval Office had advance warning of the attack on the World Trade Center. Moreover, the Times would have put the edition to bed prior to the bombings. As someone who has spent his career in or working with the news media, George Stephanopoulos knew this. Thus, he deliberately framed his question to inflame and mislead. This kind of juvenalia one expects from Fox News; it's a broach of the public trust that it came from one of the most recognizable members of ABC News. Why is it a broach of public trust? ABC may be a business, but we own the airwaves.

We now know that right-wing talk show host Sean Hannity virtually spoon-fed the question to Stephanopoulos on his radio program: Stephanopolous dutifully informed Hannity that he was "taking notes." (You can listen to the actual exchange here.) ABC claims that they were researching the matter anyway, but neither they nor Stephanopoulos must have been taking very good notes. For if they had, they'd know that Ayers clarified his remarks as referring to the Vietnam war and that he should have worked even harder to oppose it. They would also have known that -- far from being unrepentant (as Hannity would have it) --Ayers told the the Times in the same interview that he was "embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way. The rigidity and the narcissism..." As Stephanopoulos failed to include this context, he was either ignorant of it or again deliberately chose an intellectually dishonest way to raise the matter.

I lean toward the latter explanation, as he took his cue from a leading light in a club of dissemblers with such members as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter. Utterly without scruples, Sean Hannity and his ilk treat journalism like professional wrestling. Hannity would become a liberal tomorrow if he thought it would increase ratings and book sales. That Stephanopoulos would lend credibility to this person by appearing on his program makes one wonder about the man's own scruples. Or at least his self-respect.

As for the actual fundraiser at the Ayers home, it seems that Obama's predecessor in the Illinois State Senate knew William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn and asked them to host a fundraiser for Obama. That's it. That's the extent of this particular sinister nexus.

But what about the sinister Woods Fund? By eagerly associating it with Ayers, Clinton connected the Fund -- and by extension former board member Obama -- with the violent activities of the Weather Underground. For starters, the Fund's Board of Directors is comprised mainly of such dangerous characters as educators and business executives. (That Hillary Clinton, for six years a paid member of WalMart's Board of Directors, tut-tuts Obama because Ayers may have held a paid board position with the Woods Fund is downright comical.)

As for its mission, it turns out that the Woods Fund "is a grantmaking foundation whose goal is to increase opportunities for less advantaged people and communities in the metropolitan area, including the opportunity to shape decisions affecting them." And perhaps this is Barack Obama's crime in the eyes of the media elite: Telling the disenfranchised that their voice counts as much as anyone else's and that they must make it heard.

3 rounds of:
10 sit ups
10 push ups

4 rounds of:
21 kettlebell swings (36 lbs)
15 dumbbell thrusters (2x20-lb)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Someone Neuter George Stephanopoulos, Please

I was going to write about music today. But the two most inane and vacuous performances of the debate season came last night in Pennsylvania, persuading me otherwise. I'm writing, of course, of ABC moderators George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson. Both were pathetic. The day after an Iraqi brigade cuts and runs, the same day a suicide bomb kills 50 people attending a funeral in Baghdad, and the same day President Bush blows more smoke about climate change, we're treated to such gems as
  • a barely coherent question from Stephanopoulos about the Weather Underground, last heard from sometime around 1969;
  • an invitation from Gibson for the candidates to discuss the mutterings of Mario Cuomo, a politician who hasn't been in the national spotlight for 20 years;
  • wasting the time of voters, viewers, and both candidates by pushing them on trivialities that they both addressed time and again;
  • two videotaped questions that insulted the voters of Pennsylvania by implying that they care most about who wears a flag lapel pin and how many times Hillary Clinton has to address her memory lapse or fantasy or whatever you want to call it about being under sniper fire in Yugoslavia. Hey, I enjoy watching a politician forced onto a rhetorical Slip-n-Slide as much as the next guy, but enough already;
  • frankly unbelievable interrogations from both moderators in which they appeared to express great concern for those making $200,000+ a year. You'd think that there weren't 50,000,000 people without health insurance. And yet it's Barack Obama who is the elitist!;
It took nearly an hour of Gibson acting like he was trying out for a role on Law And Order and Stephanopoulos alternating between lobbing softballs to Clinton and attempting to ambush Obama for anything remotely resembling a pertinent question to surface. A revolting, pathetic, embarrassing 90 minutes from two men who apparently did not take their charge seriously in any way. And the MSM says Obama is out of touch?

Personal Disclosure: My mother's family is from Pennsylvania. I have spent many happy days there. I know for a fact that the people there are more informed and care about matters of greater substance than the dolts at ABC led the rest of the United States to believe.

For more along these lines, read Tom Shales' review of last night's bomb here. Eric Alterman didn't think much of it, either. Katrina Vanden Heuvel gets past the outrage to critique ABC with thoughtfulness and even sadness, here. In the end, though, this gets it about right:

It's hard to imagine the MSM sinking any lower than last night. But, at least one of them will find a way to show the rest of us that the bottom of the barrel is farther down than anyone previously believed. Bet on it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Speaking Words Of Wisdom

I turned 53 a week ago. People younger than I jokingly ask what wisdom I can pass down to them. Well, I certainly know more than I did when I was 52 -- a year of living will do that for anyone. Mainly, though, I find that as I age, I tend to look at knowledge and wisdom in a different way. The older I get, the more I know. But, the older I get, the more I also realize that there's even more that I don't know than I thought there was. However much my slice from the pie of knowledge increases with age, my awareness of the size of the pie -- the volume of knowledge and wisdom that I do not possess and never will -- increases exponentially. None of which is an argument for ignorance. It is, however, an argument for humility. 

Here's more wisdom from brucespringsteen.net:

Dear Friends and Fans:

LIke most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams From My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.

Bruce Springsteen

"As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." -President Bush, 2005. Do you think this is what he had in mind? It does give you a good idea of what John McCain meant when he said that we might be in Iraq for a hundred years.

"They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat. And we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins." -President Bush, same speech. But it's not us this is happening to, is it Mr. President? I wonder whether the families are bitter enough to turn to something like, say, guns and religion...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bombs Away

Military experts have long debated the efficacy of strategic bombing -- the use of air power to overcome an enemy by destroying its economic capacity to make war. Certainly, the German air war against England in World War II failed, as did the United States' massive air war against North Vietnam. Nonetheless, the use of air power has become the lynchpin of American military action, even in Iraq an Afghanistan.

I've always wondered what was meant by the euphemism "surgical air strikes." I doubt that they seemed especially surgical to those on the receiving end, unless you think of undergoing an invasive operation without anesthetic as "surgical." TomDispatch discusses the realities of using air power in the war on terror here. In the article, he elaborates on these nine propositions:
  1. The farther away you are from the ground, the clearer things are likely to look, the more god-like you are likely to feel, the less human those you attack are likely to be to you;
  2. However "precise" your weaponry, however "surgical" your strike, however impressive the grainy snuff-film images you can put on television, war from the air is, and will remain, a most imprecise and destructive form of battle;
  3. In human terms, distance does not enhance accuracy;
  4. If you are conducting war this way and you are doing so in heavily populated urban neighborhoods, as is now the case almost every day in Iraq, then civilians will predictably die "by mistake" almost every day;
  5. Since World War II, air power has been the American way of war;
  6. Since November 2001, the Bush administration has increasingly relied on air power in its Global War on Terror to "take out" the enemy, which has meant regular air strikes in cities and villages, and the no less regular, if largely unrecorded, deaths of civilians;
  7. In Afghanistan and especially in Iraq (as well as in the tribal areas along the Pakistani border), the use of air power has been "surging;"
  8. Force creates counterforce. The application of force, especially from the air, is a reliable engine for the creation of enemies;
  9. U.S. air power has, in the last six and a half years, been an effective force in a war for terror, not against it.

Wellesley and Yale alum Hillary Clinton and millionaire John McCain accuse Barack Obama of elitism (read: "uppity") because Obama had the temerity to suggest that Americans might be pissed off at the current state of affairs. Obama's sin was to observe that “our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives." Obama stated the obvious: When people feel disenfranchised, they turn to things like guns or religion ("the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people") No word as to whether Clinton -- who grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois (median family income $100,000) plans to go duck hunting with the Holy Spirit 0n Martha's Vineyard (see photo above) any time soon...

Unfair And Biased Dept: Don't miss this Comedy Central whuppin' of Fox News, here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What About The Rest Of Us?

Yesterday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton participated in a Faith Forum in Grantham, Pennsylvania. (John McCain declined an invitation.) They answered questions about abortion, human rights, and global warming. But the most important issue concerning faith and politics never came up, so I'll phase it here:

Many people believe that an individual's faith or lack thereof is a personal matter, something private that should be kept out of the public sphere. They believe that one can easily infer candidate's values from the positions they take, and that public professions of religious belief amount to pandering. Furthermore, they look at the historical impact of religious fundamentalism -- be it Christian, Islam, or anything else -- on public policy and find it largely negative. My questions: What distinctions do you draw between personal values and religion? Are they one and the same, or is religion one of many possible influences on personal values? At what point does religious faith become an inappropriate influence on public policy? Has this ever happened with Christianity in the United States? Has it happened recently? Please cite examples...

Fred Kaplan dissects Bush's speech last week endorsing the 45-day pause in Iraq troop drawdowns requested by General Petraeus. It's an especially interesting read because the brevity of the statement allows Kaplan to parse it word-by-word in some places. For example:

Bush: "As a result of the surge, a major strategic shift has occurred. Fifteen months ago, America and the Iraqi government were on the defensive; today we have the initiative."

Kaplan: "This isn't really true. Yes, "progress"—tactical progress—has been made. But U.S. and especially Iraqi forces are still, by and large, responding to crises when and where they occur. The recent (and unusual) attempt at taking the initiative—the offensive in Basra, which Bush last week called "a defining moment"—played out badly, as Gen. David Petraeus admitted at his Senate hearing on Tuesday. The operation revealed that the Iraqi army is nowhere close to being capable of leading a major fight, and it confirmed that the Iraqi police are nearly hopeless."

Bush: "Gen. Petraeus has reported that security conditions have improved enough to withdraw all five surge brigades by the end of July."

Kaplan: "I hope a few people on the speechwriting team blushed when they penned this passage. Those five surge brigades were going to pull out this July no matter what the situation in Iraq happened to be. Their 15-month tours of deployment will be up by then; they will go home; the Army has no combat brigades ready to replace them. This was always the calculation. It's the product of arithmetic, not policy."

Bush: "As Iraqis assume the primary role in providing security, American forces will increasingly focus on targeted raids against the terrorists and extremists."

Kaplan: "The key word here is the first word in the sentence: "as." As the Iraqis take on "the primary role," we'll reduce our role. The Iraqis are not close to doing this now. So we won't be shifting down for the foreseeable future, either."

Again, read the article. It's an excellent example of how to analyze and interpret political doublespeak. That's something we really can't get enough of...

''We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election." Attributed to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on 9/29/06, in reference to Guantanamo detainees.

It's not big news that the Bush Administration has no problem with politicizing the judicial process, nor is it big news that the MSM appears to have completely missed the impact of this story. The Nation didn't though, pointing out that "political interference at that level would lead to indictments in any other American courtroom." But, that didn't stop them in 2006 and won't stop them this year, either. As The Nation argues, "it has become painfully clear that the Administration's concern is to have not a credible, transparent trial of 9/11 conspirators but election-year convictions at any cost."

What's also painfully clear is that this Administration figured out a long time ago that a broad assault on the democratic process will numb the mainstream media to the point of ignoring it. Either that, or take advantage of the MSM's simpleminded tendency to report everything in a he said-they said context, thus conferring legitimacy on any idea no matter how harebrained or dangerous.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Funny, Etc.

Q: What is the difference between Vietnam and Iraq?

A: Bush had a plan to get out of Vietnam.

Citizen K. Read: What The Dead Know, Laura Lippman. IMHO, mystery/suspense writers don't come any better. Lippman consistently achieves the Holy Grail of mystery writers: Intricate plots supported by characters constructed with depth and humanity. If you haven't discovered her, WTDK is a great place to start.

1000m row

Four sets of
250m row
15 Hang Power Cleans (50 lbs)
15 Overhead Squats (45 lbs)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Run-Run-Run-Run Runway

I turned 53 yesterday. We celebrated by pigging out on sushi at Nishino, then joined a group of friends for the Art Institute of Seattle's Underground Couture Fashion Runway Show. Why would a 53-year old heterosexual want to spend one of his precious few remaining birthdays at a fashion show? It's Premium T.'s fault. Earlier this year, I decided at the last minute to stay home on a night she had planned to to settle in for some serious chick TV. She wouldn't change her plans, and I wound watching not just one episode of "Project Runway," but four of them. We spent a good part of the early hours of the morning critiquing the designs and designers. So when the chance to do this on my birthday came up...

Anyway, it was great fun. The winning designers came up with a concept based on the Seven Deadly Sins, where each model promenaded in a couture ensemble based on one of the sins. (They all aimed to inspire lust, it seemed to me.) Other impressive designs included a sort of dashiki-desert robe kind of thing of vermillion fabric with gold print; a bustled wedding gown (a clear winner with the 9-year old girl in front of me); and what looked at first like a Standard Black Minidress, except that it also included a white lace bib -- a sort of contemporary pilgrim thing. A bad good girl, as it were. 

Less impressive was the use of clashing colors, although I'm told that it's an anti-fashion fashion statement. I guess the intent is ironic, if no less clashing for that. One guy modeled, for no apparent reason, a pirate suit complete with puffy shirt. Some things didn't work that well, but even those reinforced one of life's truisms: If you're young enough, you can wear anything.

Now, here's something about modeling that I don't understand: Why is it that the models adopt a severe facial expression that announces to one and all that the last place in the world they want to be is on this runway in these clothes in front of those people? A member of our party has done some modeling; she suggested that when you spend all day locked in a small room without food or water, being turned this way and that by dressers, the last thing you're capable of doing is smiling. On the way out, we checked with a group of models. Apparently amateurs, they shrugged and said that they had been told not to look too happy.

Musical aside: Blogging on the first sunny day of spring while listening to Gary Louris' Vagabond and fell0w former Jayhawk Mark Olson's Salvation while Premium T. prepares poems for submission turns out to feel pretty good. Check out Olson's impossibly lovely ballad "My Carol" here.

The U.S. Navy in its infinite wisdom promises that Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Dickinson will never "wear her uniform again in the service of our country." "Service" is perhaps an unfortunate choice of words, as Dickinson's offense is moonlighting as a call girl for the D.C. Madam. Maybe I've seen The Last Detail one too many times, but bear with me for a minute: If the Navy discharged every sailor who had been to a whorehouse, just how many would they have left? (See poll to right.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Come Buy, Come Buy

Author and Seattle resident Jonathan Raban interviewed a homeless man and came away with a new appreciation for the Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market (originally published in 1862). Standard critical interpretations point to its juxtaposition of female eroticism and Victorian sexual mores, although at least one sees it as a critique of the rise of advertising (!). I'm with Raban, though: There's a clear theme here of addiction, withdrawal, and recovery. In Goblin Market, the power of sororal love optimistically prevails, as the self-sacrifice of one sister inspires the other to brave the terrors of withdrawal. Rosetti wrote the poem in a sing-song, childlike fashion both eerie and gripping. I've posted it below. But first...

Dispatches from Blogland: Cafe Nita Lou and boomer groovin'...Scrumpy's Baker recalls the charming wisdom of A. A. Milne...Cancer Bitch visits San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country...Stupid and Contagious remembers Guadalcanal Diary...Just after the video of his violinist son, Mike Kelly lists ten things everyone ought to know about John McCain...

Goblin Market
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy."
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
"Lie close," Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
"Come buy," call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
"O! cried Lizzie, Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie covered up her eyes
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
"Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds' weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes."
"No," said Lizzie, "no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us."
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.
Lizzie heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr'd,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried "Pretty Goblin" still for "Pretty Polly";
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered altogether:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore,
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
"Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so."
"Nay hush," said Laura.
"Nay hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more," and kissed her.
"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons, icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap."

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came--
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: "The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep."
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
"Come buy, come buy,"
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, "O Laura, come,
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather even
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?"

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
But peering thro' the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent 'til Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
"Come buy, come buy,"
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister's cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins' cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy."
Beside the brook, along the glen
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear,

She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death's door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook,
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, --
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
"Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs."

"Good folk," said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
"Give me much and many"; --
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
"Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,"
They answered grinning;
"Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us."
"Thank you," said Lizzie; "but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee."
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, --
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, --
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, --
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tear her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple.
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, --
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried "Laura," up the garden,
"Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men."

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
"Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin;
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?"
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame,
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life ?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months,years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
"For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."
-Christina Rosetti, 1862

Riding The Tiger

General Petraeus' testimony yesterday was a disgrace -- a linguistic maze of cowardly gobbledegook that said little and committed to less. Would that he and Ambassador Crocker could face the American people with a fingernail-sized sliver of the courage that his soldiers show in battle -- we and they deserve no less, although it was hardly in evidence. Nonetheless, politicians and press continue to quail before anyone in a brass hat: Coverage of the hearings was muted and the political response was more frustrated and resigned than anything else.

Petraeus and Crocker said that reconciliation in Iraq was "hard"; Patrick Cockburn, The Independent's award-winning Iraq correspondent, thinks it well nigh impossible. Yesterday, Cockburn -- whom one of his peers calls "quite simply, the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today" -- published Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, an assessment of the Shiite cleric and political power. Departing from traditional Western reporting, Cockburn view Muqtada as a canny, skilled leader who owes his position to his family's long-time opposition to Saddam Hussein and his ready grasp of Iraqi opposition to occupation of any kind.

Sadr's power grew after the occupation began, when American leadership proved unable to provide food, water, and electricity to the people of Baghdad. Moreover, the Iraqi provisional government, hunkered down in the relative safety of the Green Zone, "rapidly turned into a kleptocracy comparable to Nigeria or the Congo. Muqtada sensed the loathing with which the government was regarded, and dodged in and out of government, enjoying some of the fruits of power while denouncing those who held it."

In the last chapter of his book -- available here -- Cockburn describes how the best chance of Shia and Sunni alliance collapsed when the Sunnis reject Sadr's calls for unity by refusing to denounce Al-Qaeda in Iraq, an organization hated and feared by the Shia community. Unwilling or unable to accept their minority status, the Sunnis began their protracted guerilla war with the Shia factions. Ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods ensued and the fissure between the two groups became unbridgeable. Cockburn observes that "the only way the Sadrists and the Mehdi Army could create confidence among the Sunni that Muqtada meant what he said when he called for unity, would be for them to be taken back voluntarily into the areas in Baghdad and elsewhere from which they have been driven. But there is no sign of this happening. The disintegration of Iraq has probably gone too far for the country to exist as anything more than a loose federation."

Cockburn describes Moqtada, whose hold on the Shia militias is hardly absolute, as "a man riding a tiger, sometimes presiding over, sometimes controlling the mass movement he nominally led." Which begs the question: If as influential and capable a man as Moqtada al-Sadr is riding an Iraqi tiger that he can't control, what are we doing? I circle back to the galling Petraeus-Crocker testimony and wonder why no one asks this question: What about the situation in Iraq and the Administration's performance to date leads anyone to believe that the United States can dictate as positive outcome in that tragic country? Or, for that matter, play any constructive role at all, given who is in charge?

Bill Sher writes from Northampton, Massachusetts: When Gen. David Petraeus testifies about the status of the Iraq occupation, I'll be thinking about my neighborhood elementary school. Because the Bridge Street School in Northampton, Mass., may have to close for lack of funds, while we continue to waste billions on a failed foreign policy.

My town is facing a shortfall in our school budget between $800,000 to $1 million. We are forced with a choice between closing an entire school, which doesn't even make up the entire gap, or a series of cuts across the entire school district, including teaching positions, school buses, special education, music and arts education and supplies.

We're not alone in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports:

"Across Massachusetts, cities and towns face the prospect of deep cuts in what appears to be the grimmest fiscal year since 2003. Local revenue and state aid can't keep up with such rapidly rising expenses as employee health insurance, heating oil, and even street paving. School costs, like special education requirements, are sapping local budgets. And now beleaguered residents are seeing home values dip even as taxes continue to rise."

And it's not just Massachusetts, school budgets are being squeezed across the nation. While we are starved for investment in our schools—not to mention our health, our energy, our environment and our infrastructure—the occupation saps our resources. As Joseph Stiglitz, co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War, said on MSNBC yesterday: "Spending on the war is the worst form of spending. I mean, just think about it. Paying a Nepalese worker to work in Iraq doesn’t stimulate the economy in the same way that spending that same dollar in the United States."

Paying for cheap Nepalese labor (sometimes lying to lure them into Iraq) doesn't even help rebuild Iraq's economic foundation, let alone ours.

How does this relate to the Bridge Street School's possible closing? According to the National Priorities Project, while my town of Northampton faces a school budget gap of nearly $1 million, Northampton's share of the cost of the occupation is a massive $55,800,000. It is critical that we invest in America's foundation if we are to thrive in the global economy of the 21st century. If we're wasting our money on a failed foreign policy, we won't have the resources to invest in the next generation.

War always has costs. If war is a strategic necessity, then those costs may be worth sacrificing. But the conservative goal of this war, a permanent military occupation of Iraq, is a dangerous and destabilizing goal not worth one penny or one life. And we're paying far more than that.

You can find out from the National Priorities Project how much your town is paying for the occupation at nationalpriorities.org

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

45 Days And Counting...

General David Petraeus recommended today during Congressional testimony that troop "drawdown" from Iraq cease for a minimum of 45 days after the surge force completes its stint. Will the troop reductions recommence after the 45 days are up? Well, no, not exactly: After the 45 days expire, Petraeus testified, "...we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and, over time, determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions...” So, in 45 days, "we" will commence to begin to get ready to take a look at how things are at the time and decide whether or not "we" can begin to decide whether or not "we" can start to think about further drawdowns. Got that?

If case you didn't, allow the general to clarify: "This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.” Still not sure what he means? Here's the nub of it: "This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable." To do anything else would undermine the "progress" brought about by the surge. Ambassador Ryan Crocker understands why someone might not get this: “Taken as a snapshot, with scenes of increasing violence, and masked gunmen in the streets, it is hard to see how this situation supports a narrative of progress in Iraq.”

But, you see, just the fact that the Maliki governed tried and failed dismally in Basra has great strategic import ("major significance"), although Crocker doesn't explain what that might be or how the average American might recognize it. "There is still much to be done," he allows, and presumably we have to trust the Iraqi government to get around to it. Whenever that will be, it's unlikely to occur within 45 days. Luckily, the Bush Administration is making progress on the long-term agreement of a legal framework for allowing the continued presence of American troops.

What this amounts to is the fruits of yet another Bush Administration bait-and-switch. At root, Petraeus and Bush propose to make an open-ended commitment to the Maliki government. The Basra expedition wound up inserting American lives into the breech of an intra-Shiite squabble that ended only when Muqtada al-Sadr decided to call an end to it. This is what they want us to commit American lives and treasure to. Of course, the other end result of Petraeus' recommendation will be to punt the matter of troop reductions to the next president. It amounts to one more instance of dereliction of duty by the Bush Administration.

Dispatches from Blogland: Renegade Eye wants your recipes...Foxessa remembers The Wanderers while looking forward to the new novel by Richard Price...Scrumpy's Baker considers the fitness alternative offered by a Japanese game show...As Julia Sweeney anticipates the new R. E. M. album, even the thought of it makes one of her commenters feel old. I know where he's coming from: There was a time when I felt out of touch because I wasn't up on R. E. M. Now...Meanwhile, Abrogast discovers pictures of Civil War dead that resonate with contemporary eloquence...Premium T. contemplates sewing after a 10-year hiatus...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Beautiful Visions

Accelerate, R. E. M. You hear a great deal about how Accelerate is a return to their rocking form of the '80's. True enough, and also beside the point. What really matters is that they're playing like it means something, that they've found motivation in a collective response to the betrayals of the Bush Administration. Hurricane Katrina serves as both a focal point and a metaphor, never more than "Sing For The Submarine" and its chilling account of the siren song of George Bush: "The city did not collapse in a shudder/The rain it never came.../It's all in the submarine/It's all a lot less frightening/Than you would have had it be..." Don't believe your own eyes: Enter my coccoon and all will be well. Guitarist Peter Buck rarely solos, but as in the best R. E. M. material, his guitar teams with Michael Stipe's lyrics co-create each song, shaping each into a musical statement that you can rock to.

Note: You can download Accelerate on Amazon.com for $8.99. This includes five fun bonus tracks that serve as a light dessert to the serious business of the main course. Watch out for those red heads!

Rabo de Nube, Charles Lloyd Quartet. The master reed player and composer assembles a magnificent quartet and premieres a new set of compositions on this superb live outing. Amazingly, despite the powerful personalities of each member of the group, no one's ego takes over or even attempts to. Perhaps that's out of respect for their 70-year leader who performs with the muscularity of a man half his age and who has few peers of any age when it comes to originality of musical imagination. Whatever, the integration of their sound impresses as completely as their skill as soloists. (Lloyd's Seattle appearance reviewed here.)

Keep It Simple, Van Morrison. That his ground-breaking days are in past hasn't stopped Van Morrison from creating beautiful visions. Few of his 30+ albums are outright clunkers, and most of them stand up under repeated listenings. Van the Man's genre explorations have ranged from the inspired (pairing with The Chieftains for Irish Heartbeat) to the puzzling (Pay The Devil should have been brilliant instead of merely good); he's continued to write terrific songs like "Slow Train" and "Precious Time" and to breath new life into classics like "Lonely Avenue." Morrison long ago absorbed and integrated blues, gospel, country, folk, and R & B into his sound, and on Keep It Simple he wears them like a damn comfortable old suit. So, a simple blues keeps company with a simple ballad, a simple gospel tune, and a simple country weeper. Van Morrison has such command of the genres that he shows their interrelations with spare arrangements that you can pay close attention to or play in the background while you read a good book or eat a fine meal.

For Boston: One of the many joys of traveling is taking the time to check out local music. Last month in Boston led me to a couple of nice finds: Dennis Brennan's Engagment and Collective Psychosis Begone from Hallelujah The Hills. Brennan is a fine singer-songwriter who ought to be better known. His writes with wit and flair and leads an excellent roots band. Treat yourself and track down Engagement. Hallelujah The Hills create a unique indie/prog sound augmented by soaring zigzag keyboard and the judicious application of a soul horn section. These guys are going places.

R. I. P. Chuck Heston. Even though you went from being one of the first white celebrities to march with Martin Luther King to a senescent gun rights advocate who couldn't accept the homoerotic subtext of Ben-Hur, with that one and The Ten Commandments you made two movies that people enjoyed and quoted with glee every year. There are worse legacies. Plus, you were a memorable Long John Silver when you remade Treasure Island. Go in peace.

Note: That's 15-year old Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins.