Monthly ArchiveAugust 2007
I had what you might call a rude awakening on a recent trip to San Diego where I enjoyed my first trip ever to the San Diego Zoo.
During the visit, we took the bus tour that gives you highlights of all of the species the zoo boasts, and provides what turns out to be a great deal of information on endangered species and conservation. I was shocked out of my complacency when the guide spoke about one critically endangered species that they had brought back from the brink of extinction. She said that they now had 14 breeding pairs that they would love to return to their natural habitat…if that natural habitat still existed.
These animals (some kind of grazing mammal that resembled a cross between an antelope, a goat, and a cow – I was so surprised by her statement that I’ve totally spaced on the name) are living in a tiny re-creation of their original ecosystem, and to keep the herd viable, are traded back and forth between other zoos, wild animal parks and refuges. There is no available habitat that they can be returned to because of the encroachment of man.
I’d always thought that the biggest danger that man posed to this planet was through pollution, waste of natural resources, and the byproducts of technology. Not so.
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Yesterday, the Decider paid a visit to New Orleans. You won’t be surprised to hear that he “delivered a message of hope”. More grating, he claimed “[Katrina] didn’t effect the spirit of a lot of citizens in this community”. Both in Washington, and in Louisiana, political games are being played.
Meanwhile, the rebuilding of New Orleans is turning into an exercise in ethnic, and class, cleansing. Many of the people who lived and worked in the city are still housed in trailers - as reported here (YouTube clip). What Americans don’t know, and what they must know, is that many Black people are not being allowed to return to their homes in New Orleans:
Among the miles and miles of devastated houses, rubble still there today in New Orleans, we found dry, beautiful homes. But their residents were told by guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your home and we’ll arrest you.”
See more details at Greg Palast’s blog, where you will also find clips (such as the YouTube one above) and info on the not-to-be-missed investigative documentary, New Orleans: Big Easy to Big Empty.
Bush got one thing right, though: the people’s spirits have not been crushed. People like Kawana Jasper are fighting for a future in New Orleans.
(Many more testimonials can be found at Voices from the Gulf).
And we can help. We can pressure politicians to have public housing in New Orleans reopened. We can throw whatever small weight we have behind the Gulf Coast Civil Works Project that envisions hiring the citizens on the Gulf Coast to rebuild their city, instead of shuffling more money to large contractor who import sub-living wage labor to do the work.
I won the raffle at a party thrown by a job agency a while back, and one of the prizes was a gift certificate from Starbucks. I don’t drink coffee; a single glass of Coke at dinner is enough to move my sleep time back an hour or more. But Starbucks sells other stuff, so I had a cup of hot chocolate and bought the Dylan No Direction Home CD.
The PBS special on Dylan was directed by Scorsese, and covered Dylan’s career up to the point where he had his motorcycle accident. It feels important, somehow, that Dylan survived the accident, that he didn’t follow the “good career move” that got so many of the other 60s icons. Dylan was always the Trickster, so it also feels appropriate, and besides, living is better than dying. I don’t care how many mediocre albums he’s made since then, how many unmemorable songs. He’s alive; good for him.
One of the things that was very obvious, and left very unmentioned, in No Direction Home was how thoroughly ripped he was for much of the time.
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In his intriguing, if overly verbose, article on “Capitalist democracy: elective affinity or beguiling illusion” (Daedalus, Summer 2007, pp. 5-13), John Dunn states:
“This much is clear: while in America, Tom Paine and James Madison both imagined that that a commercial society could coexist happily with a representative republic, others elsewhere, from Filippo Buonarroti and the first Duke of Wellington in the 1830s to the Guild Socialist G.D.H. Cole in the 1920s, were just as certain that the inequalities generated by the market economy were incompatible with a truly democratic republic. (p. 5)
To this latter position I would add not only generated but sustained for the benefit of some over others. In the article, John Dunn mentions aristocracy and monarchy as counterpoints to democracy, but fails to follow up on oligarchy, the far more relevant (in my opinion) form of aristocratic “ruling” behavior in a capitalist democracy, and a problem in Greek and Roman times as well. Can a group of leaders so constituted as to view their interests (esp. economic) as either constitutive of or superior to the general public be entrusted with power in a democracy?
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New blog banner by longtime friend of the Minister of Justice, Serafin.
The Baby Boomers. The Rock and Roll Generation. The biggest and most photographically documented generation to date, if only because we’ve been around since the day the technology became affordable to the masses (later generations will catch up).
And we’re going gray.
Like any youth, we thought we’d live and be young forever. Like no other youth before us, our heroes were frozen in time by the lens of the camera. In our mind’s (and the camera’s) eye, Mick Jagger will always be a skinny, tousle-headed kid with huge but normal shaped lips, no matter that he just turned a dissolute 64 and has a mouth that droops nearly down to his sunken chest. 60 year-old David Bowie (who’s held up much better) will always be that gender bending almost elfin fellow with the sly look and the oddly captivating voice we first saw on television 40 years ago.
What inspired me to reflect on this phenomenon?
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Gender Issues 22 Aug 2007 04:47 am
Last month, I took the train from Champaign up to Chicago as final step in my move up here. Now I own a little stuffed dog called Albert (less mess than a real dog, and talks more), and I didn’t have the heart to just stuff him into my backpack and leave him in the dark, as it were. So I let his head peak out the top. Now this is of course “something little girls do” - certainly not grown-up men. Or so I realized from the reactions of random fellow passengers.
Some just stared, but a few asked about the dog, probably wondering if I was sane (a fair question, to be sure). This was a good thing, in fact - it got me talking to people, when otherwise we would just have walked past each other blindly. For example, I got to talk to a couple going up to Chicago for their 40th wedding anniversary.
So, did I unwittingly undermine some gender stereotype by openly carrying around a stuffed animal?
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I know a lot of amateur scholars, including myself (ask me about New York City circa 1911 sometime). Many of them concentrate a fair amount of their scholarly impulses on science fiction, and that includes my friend Douglas. He’s taken advantage of the fact that U.C. Berkeley has a collection of the papers of A.E. van Vogt, for example. He also tells me of a movie review of Metropolis written by H. G. Wells.
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Yesterday, Jose Padilla was convicted of charges of conspiracy to “murder, kidnap and maim” people overseas. He faces life in prison. He did not actually commit any acts of terrorism at all, and the contention that he - a poor, uneducated man who grew up on the South Side of Chicago - provided “material support” to terrorism is laughable. Before he was even granted a trial, he was held incommunicado for three years as “enemy combatant”; during this time, he was likely tortured, psychologically and physically.
There are minor annoyances here: the way the media describe the verdict as “a victory for the Bush administration”, when it in fact demolishes their claim that (alleged) terrorists can’t be tried in civilian courts; the regurgitation of the dirty bomb accusation that was always absurd. But the main issue is this: a man, a US citizen in fact, was destroyed by the state, and precious few people were outraged by it. Why would they be? He was only a gang member, a convert to Islam, a nobody.
Padilla may well have been guilty under the incredibly lax standards needed to prove conspiracy charges (in itself, this legal construct undermines the constitution, in my opinion). But don’t we have a right to trial by a jury of our peers precisely so the law can be tempered by the people’s sense of justice? Why did not a single juror stand up and refuse to convict after a trial so obviously unjust?
I published this a decade ago at a now-defunct website called Gravity, run by Cuda Brown (a pseudonym). I’ve been looking for a time and a place to republish it. This is the place and, in the words of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, now’s the time.
The first time I heard the phrase — “white black man” — Zola Kobas was talking about me. He paid me that compliment after hearing me play the trumpet at a July 4th party hosted by a mutual friend, Ade Knowles. When, three-quarters of a life ago, I had originally become interested in jazz, I was simply pursuing music which moved me. That Zola, a political fugitive from South African apartheid, should see me as a white black man affirmed the African spirit I cultivated in the heart of jazz.
When I was a young boy learning to play the trumpet I looked for musical heroes. Rafael Mendez, a Mexican-American who made his living playing in Hollywood studios, was my first. I admired his virtuosity and expressiveness. I was particularly attracted by the Hispanic part of his repertoire, with its tone colors and rhythms which sounded so exotic, and sensual. Then I discovered jazz.
My first jazz record was A Rare Batch of Satch, which I had urged my parents to get through their record club. I had heard that this Louis Armstrong was an important trumpet player and thought I should check him out. At first I didn’t quite understand why this man was so important. But I listened and listened and, gradually, I began to understand his music. There was Armstrong’s tone — by turns jubilant, plaintive, tightly-coiled, tender — his ability to bend notes, to worry them. And his rhythm, his amazing ability to stretch or compress time, to float phrases over the beat. This rhythmic freedom was quite unlike anything I knew in the military band music which was the staple of my instructional and playing experience. It was exciting.
Above all, there was the blues. There was its emotional provenance, grief, resignation, longing. And there was the sound, the particular notes, those so-called “blue notes.” It wasn’t until much later that I learned enough about music theory to know which notes these were, to know that these notes didn’t exist in any European musical system. But I could hear these notes, I could grasp their expressive power. I wanted to make them mine.