Friday, April 28, 2006

And the Woman Wore Purple and Scarlet (I)

As soon as Mouse saw the suits he knew something wasn't right. Two young guys with bad haircuts, wearing those ridiculous twentieth-century business uniforms, shabby ones at that, had to be potential trouble. They'd drawn a sparse crowd of stragglers and idlers in front of the general store and were handing out some sort of leaflets.

Mouse slipped the amulet from around his neck and put it in his pocket, then headed for the store. Without it he was indistinguishable from the rest of the desert rats the two interlopers had attracted, dressed in wrinkled cotton drawers, a dirty shirt, sandals, and a broad-brimmed straw hat.

"Are you ready for the fire to come, brother?" one of them asked him as he approached the door.

Mouse shrugged. "Thought about it," he said, and took the folded paper that was thrust at him. Mouse couldn't read, but he recognized the symbol on the leaflet's lower right-hand corner, a red and yellow fish impaled on a spear.

"Knew it," he thought to himself, "Lord's Burning Rain. When did they get here?"

"You'd better do more than just think about it, brother," the suit said, his voice half way between a command and a shout. "When Jesus comes for you, he'll be coming with the sword in his mouth."

The Lord's Burning Rain was an especially hard-edged and violent cult, even for Christians, and Mouse knew they had a particular hatred of Durgans like himself. He figured they must have come up from the ruins on the coast, and there were sure to be more than just these two.

Charles always said that Christians were people who hated the human race.

Mouse slipped quickly into the cool interior of the store, which smelled strongly of burlap. There were fans running inside -- old Wong had a generator out back that ran on kerosene or propane or something. Mouse stepped up to the counter and began to count out a small pile of greasy bills. He had to carry fifty pounds of beans back to Charles and the others, a little over ten miles through mostly sandy terrain and over the Big Road, and he didn't have time for any trouble with Christians or anybody else. Even though it was only mid-April, the desert was already heating up. He'd be lucky to get back by two.

With the load of pinto beans strapped to his back, he slipped discreetly through the knot of people clustered in front of the store and headed north over the sandy track, past the hulks of abandoned hotels and apartments. Probably half of them were burnt out; squatters had accidentally set them ablaze them with cooking fires, and now they sat like scorched mummies, their vacant, burnt-out windows looking sightlessly over the ruins. A lot of the tract houses -- the ones that still had roofs -- had people living in them, because this place still had, and would always have water. But there was no commercial activity except for Wong's and the Camel Bar across the street, and all the old storefronts sat vacant, in various stages of decay and collapse.

A coyote followed him for a short stretch. Mouse didn't worry about just one, and eventually the dog veered off to the east.

When he came to the Big Road Mouse was cautious. There was no traffic, but the plutes still used the highway, and since they ran well over a hundred miles an hour they could come out of nowhere. They thought no more of squashing a sandrat like Mouse than they would running over a bug.

They almost always traveled in pairs; the first car had the armed guards and the second carried the plutes, usually a couple, sometimes a whole family. They were the only ones who had the money for the gas, and they used this road to travel between their enclaves on the coast and their resorts in Nevada. It wasn't easy to waylay and rob them any more, and anyway they seldom had anything of value with them other than the car. And if the sheriff's deputies caught you with a car you were done, so it was best to just steer clear of them.

On the other side of the road was the hardest part -- the hills. With the temperature at ninety or so and the fifty pounds of pintos cutting off the circulation in his shoulders and arms, Mouse clambered up the south side and looked down from the top. About a mile and a half away he saw the three trailers drawn up, with the tents clustered around them like small potatoes. Tonight they'd prepare for traveling and Charles would give everybody specific instructions for the trip. Afterward, around the fire, Claudia would sing the stories of Durga and they'd chant. Mouse loved the chanting, even though he couldn't understand a word. When they chanted, he was home. The tribe was the only real home he had ever known.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Robber Barons Strike Again

As probably everyone who surfs the net is now aware, telephone and cable corporations such as American Take and Take, Malorizen, and Nextelrip are planning to steal the internet from us, so they can then sell it back to us in the form of premium bandwidth.

I signed the e-petition being circulated by Ohio Congressional candidate Charles Sanders, one of several such paper darts now in the works aimed at preventing this blatant act of piracy. However, the attempt to head off the heist of the century will most likely be futile, since the sacrosanct and holy institutions of "free" enterprise, favored by God and the Republican Party, generally have things their way in this country.

However, since the petition and any attached message will be forwarded to my local newspaper, the Desert Sun, my local Congressman Jerry Lewis (the Nutty Professor -- might as well forget him) and California's two senators (Feinstein and Boxer -- a little more worthwhile than trying to reason with Lewis), I figured what the hell -- nothing to lose. So I signed it, and appended the following message.

Our corporate lords and masters have now smelled an opportunity to steal, rob, and plunder something that's been free for us peasants up until now. Their rationale for this intended act of brigandage is that internet bandwidth exists, it can be sold, and therefore they are somehow entitled to appropriate and sell it. This is their usual m.o., to steal then sell back to us everything on the planet -- bandwidth, air, water, and the right to stand up and walk around on God's green earth.

They won't get away with it this time. Their internet would be way too easy to sabotage.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rice and Beans and Gasolines

I asked for water
And she gave me gasoline.
--Tommy Johnson

Gasoline must have been cheap in them days.

Today in Desert Hot Springs gas costs $3.17 a gallon. No more happy motoring. Every mile is dear. And it's only going to get worse. Yet most Americans still cling desperately to the notion that we can continue driving and shopping and living the way we've grown used to.

The rich, of course, can continue with it. The roads will soon belong to them. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's a fact.

But it's not all bad. The rich (and those who pretend they are) eat steaks and cream parfaits. Their arteries clog up and they keel over.

Those of us less favored make do with rice and beans, beans and rice. Eight pounds of dried pinto beans and ten pounds of rice. That's about 160 meals.

And spinach. Add the spinach and you've got everything you need.

Spinach is one of those wonderful foods you need to be careful of. Be sure to eat only the organic kind. Agribusiness spinach is one of the most heavily pesticided crops.

Poverty doesn't necessarily mean doing without, unless you're so poor you don't know where the next bite will come from. Ordinary poverty -- a scarcity of money -- just means doing everything on a smaller scale. Your bills are in tens instead of hundreds.

I'm trying to rig up an outdoor antenna for a television. Do away with cable and the cable bill and you don't miss a thing, unless you're a big fan of the Numismatics Channel. Or "Girls Gone Wild."

As the twilight deepens my mind inclines toward zaftig women. "Zaftig" is a Yiddish term meaning "fleshy," though most who use it today incorrectly think it's a synonym of "fat."

Kirstie Alley is fat. Elisabeth Shue is zaftig, on top of having done her undergrad work at Wellesley and majored in political science at Harvard. She's very well qualified.

However, some very well qualified experts have confused zaftig and fat, as Tommy Johnson did when he sang:

Big fat mama, meat shakin' on her bones;
Every time her meat shakin' some
Skinny mama lose they home.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Life Without a Mexican

Sergio Arau's film A Day Without a Mexican employs a fantasy/fiction device as a political broadside. What would happen, Arau asks, if all the Hispanics in California were to mysteriously disappear one day? Needless to say, the state would cease functioning, and the remaining whites, blacks, and others would have a very tough time learning, or in some cases re-learning the work done by the vanished Latins.

Even though the movie has gotten mostly lousy reviews, Arau has a point. What everyone in California knows about Mexican workers, besides the fact that they're ubiquitous, is that they generally give the customer excellent value. Whether legal, illegal, or second-generation, bilingual or Spanish-only, they do a good job for a fair price, unlike many of the white workers and contractors they've replaced.

When I was working full time I never did anything around the house. If something broke down or needed doing I called a Mexican. They were always willing, always knew what they were doing, were always pleasant to deal with, and never overcharged. Most were independent contractors, and were glad to get the work in a competitive environment. I had summers off and could have mowed the yard or trimmed the trees, but who wants to work outside in Bakersfield in the summertime?

My relationship with the Mexicans was a two-way street. I served them as they served me, teaching English at a primarily Hispanic high school. I worked hard correcting papers, changing the verb conjugations and tenses to what they needed to be and flagging the spelling errors. Then I assigned re-writes of the corrected masterpieces. No progress if you don't correct your mistakes.

I took home a fat paycheck and even though I wasn't by any means rich, felt like a millionaire. It was true symbiosis.

Now everything's changed, and I no longer work. My life as a rich man and patron of Mexican service workers is over. I have to join the human race.

If the swamp cooler's going to get fixed I have to do it or broil in the summer heat. I can't afford to call someone to repair the plumbing fixtures in the bathroom. There's no one but me to figure out the myseries of the breaker box. And that overgrown garden -- there's nothing to learn, but there's a boatload of hot, tedious, difficult work to do if it's going to look like anything besides a weed patch.

I can't decide whether we'd be better or worse off if the service economy we've grown to know and love suddenly vanished. I do know that even the vigilantes who have appointed themselves to patrol the border with their SUV's and Smith and Wessons would be unpleasantly surprised by the new, serviceless world they'd created were they to succeed in their aims. On the other hand, we'd be forced to learn how to do things for ourselves again.

I think I'd better re-read that Emerson essay called "Self-Reliance."

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Morris Berman hates kitsch, and his book "The Twilight of American Culture" awards it, and the predominance of it in our lives, first place among the facets of American culture he finds lacking. "Kitsch" is a German word which roughly translates as "trash," but a single word can't convey what kitsch is. We all know it when we see it, but nobody as ever been able to come up with a satisfactory, comprehensive definition that covers all cases.

Anyone who's culturally literate would know with a single glance that the painter Thomas Kinkade is the acme of kitsch -- it almost goes without saying. But what is it about a genuine artist, Chuck Close for example, that makes him the real thing? Putting aside the obvious differences in subject matter, the fact that Kinkade's work avoids any close observation of living creatures while Close's consists almost entirely of human faces, what we find on the one hand is sentimentality and romantic idealization, and on the other, a total absence of those things.

The Czech writer Milan Kundera came up with one of the best rubrics, defining kitsch as "the absolute denial of shit." He maintains that kitsch is sanitized art which edits out everything we find difficult to deal with. Kitsch, according to Kundera, gives us a Walt Disneyish world (try Disneyland's "Main Street" for 3-D kitsch) where "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions." And I suppose the question devotees of kitsch are most anxious to preclude is, "What does it mean?"

Kundera's definition certainly applies to the comparison between Kinkade and Close. How well does it stand up when applied to other, similar comparisons?

If Celine Dion is essence of kitsch, Judy Collins is the real deal. The age difference is irrelevant. Collins was always the real deal.

But right there Kundera's definition begins to break down a little. Does Collins really make an effort to challenge us, or expose us to elements of life we find difficult to deal with, in the same way Chuck Close does?

Jessica Simpson is kitsch. Hillary Swank is not kitsch (even though she won beaucoup awards for starring in a kitsch movie, "Million Dollar Baby"). But what's the difference? I mean, besides the fact that one has talent and the other is a totem pole with yellow hair and tits.

Usually, but not always, kitsch is a commercial product, like Jessica Simpson and Thomas Kinkade's work, while the genuine article is a sincere expression of something, but its sincerity doesn't necessarily prevent it from being marketed right alongside kitsch.

So how do you tell the difference? It requires that most bourgeois of cultivated traits, taste.

Lawrence Welk's band was pure kitsch writ large; Count Basie's band in its heyday was a bona fide cultural gem, but no standard other than standards of taste could tell you that. Kundera's definition breaks down completely when applied to the comparison of Welk and Basie. Both were commercial enterprises, and Welk's kitschy cornball sound was, in its own way, the sincere expression of an aesthetic.

In a very real sense, the current government is institutional kitsch. Its every action is predicated on an idealized, sentimentalized, and sanitized version of America's role in the world and its history. It's a view that denies reality by censoring the negative facts, then proceeds as if its own kitschy self-conception was real. It's a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

And I'll leave you with this final irony about kitsch: many of the artists who produce the stuff are actually talented. Norman Rockwell was a prodigiously gifted draftsman and painter, and his work is the purest kitsch imaginable.

See also Wikipedia: Kitsch.

I'd appreciate some feedback, input, and discussion on this one, and maybe some help.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I Shot the Sheriff

(A poem written and sung by the late Bob Marley.)

I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, oh no!
I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh.

Yeah! all around in my home town,
They’re tryin’ to track me down;
They say they want to bring me in guilty
For the killing of a deputy,
For the life of a deputy.

But I say:

Oh, now, I shot the sheriff - the sheriff,
But I swear it was in self defense.
Yeah, I say I shot the sheriff - oh, lord!
And they say it is a capital offense.

Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I don’t know;
Every time I planted a seed,
He said kill it before it grow;
He said kill them before they grow.

And so read it in the news --
I shot the sheriff, oh Lord,
But I swear it was in self defense.
Where was the deputy?
I say I shot the sheriff,
But I swear it was in self defense, oh yeah.

Freedom came my way one day
And I started out of town.
All of a sudden I saw Sheriff John Brown
Aiming to shoot me down,
So I shot - I shot - I shot him down, and I say
If I am guilty I will pay.

I shot the sheriff,
But I say I didn’t shoot no deputy;
I didn’t shoot no deputy, oh no.
I shot the sheriff -- I did;
But I didn’t shoot no deputy, no.

Reflexes had got the better of me,
And what is to be must be;
Every day the bucket a-go a well,
One day the bottom a-go drop out,
One day the bottom a-go drop out.

I say I - I - I - I shot the sheriff.
Lord, I didn’t shot the deputy. yeah!
I - I shot the sheriff,
But I didn’t shoot no deputy...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tin Shack

A tin shack by the side of the road is still a house. If it’s equipped with a toilet, stove, refrigerator, bed, television, and computer, and the roof doesn’t leak, the person who lives in it, though poor by U.S. standards, is still richer than the wealthiest pharaohs of antiquity.

If money is what’s corrupting our society, then we need less, not more of it.

If gasoline becomes all but unaffordable, the solution is to drive less. Be grateful for the car. Be still, and listen to the silence.

Refuse to live in this world of violence and the hysterical, fear-driven pursuit of stuff. If we did that, we might rediscover what it means to be human.

In the tin shack by the side of the road, surrounded by palm trees and oleander and beautiful cacti, I sit and listen to the swamp cooler hum. A swamp cooler is a simple thing, kind of like a toilet tank. Water flows from a garden hose into the reservoir, and a float on a stick shuts it off when the tank is full. Turn on the juice and the water gets pumped up through tiny brass pipes and drips onto the pads on four sides, and the fan blows the water-cooled air down into the shack through a hole in the ceiling. Simple and cheap, it’s the poor person’s air conditioning.

The wind’s come up tonight and the palms are swaying. There’s no moon so far and it’s very, very dark and silent. In San Francisco the lights were on all the time. You can’t see the stars. There are a lot of crazy people on the streets, and they’re mostly unpleasant to deal with. Crazy is not a pretty sight.

I think about the horrendous murders being done in the Middle East and elsewhere by a government which claims to represent me, but I don’t remember signing anything. Such thoughts make my mind turn red.

I wonder how long we can go on being this crazy. There's nothing I can do about it except deliberately, methodically go sane.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


A young friend of mine currently serving in the military says of Iraq, "I'll be the first to admit it: we were wrong to go in. Personally, I was wrong to support the war. No one talks about weapons of mass destruction anymore! When I think about it, I feel deceived. We were sold "facts" that were completely wrong and these guys played on our patriotism and our fears. Either the intelligence was flat wrong or we were lied to. Either action is inexcusable."

I appreciate the mea culpa, but it's not like our young people in the various theatres of the Persian Gulf are fighting and dying for nothing. And really, the actual reasons for the Iraq War -- all talk of WMD's and 9/11 aside -- are as pure as a 72-dollar drum of Saudi light sweet crude.

Compared with the reasons for Vietnam, which when boiled down amount to little more than a desire for a little light exercise and muscle flexing on the part of belligerent generals, greedy defense contractors, and one U.S. president from Texas, the neocons' motivation for domination of the Middle East are pristine and blameless. And wrong.

The trouble with constantly dealing with the administration's cover story for Iraq is that it short-circuits any effective debate about the real m. o. But it's there for anyone who cares to look hard enough, in Wolfowitz's Defense Planning Guidance of 1992 (be sure to look under the "oil" subhead) and in the Project for a New American Century's white paper, Rebuilding America's Defenses of 2000.

And yesterday, it even showed up on Chris Matthews's MSNBC gabfest, "Hardball," where White House Counselor Dan Bartlett insisted that no one in the administration ever said the Iraq War would give us lower gas prices.

But Matthews countered with a quote from from Larry Lindsay, a senior White House economic adviser back in Bush's early days, which ran the Washington Times in September, 2002:

"As for the impact of a war with Iraq, 'It depends how the war goes.' But he quickly adds that that 'Under every plausible scenario, the negative effect will be quite small relative to the economic benefits that would come from a successful prosecution of the war.'

"'The key issue is oil, and a regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil,' which would drive down oil prices, giving the U.S. economy an added boost."

You don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure it out. And you don't have to be Einstein to realize that the neocon response to the already-arrived oil shortages is the kind of desperate and futile strongarm violence that street addicts use.

A real leader -- someone of the caliber of Washington, or Lincoln, or F.D. Roosevelt -- would respond to our present crisis rationally. As far back as the late seventies, we should have been looking for ways to reduce oil consumption in the short run, and implement alternative energy systems in the long run (electricity would probably be the most practical). We're going to have to do precisely those very things eventually anyway.

But George W. Bush is not Abraham Lincoln, and Saddam Hussein was in the unfortunate position of standing between a junkie and his fix.

Ever seen the Roman Polanski movie "Chinatown?" Try looking at things the way the Jack Nicholson character did. It leads to cynical world-view, sure, but illusions never fail to land us in deep kim-che.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Memories of a Misspent Youth

When you're living alone in a travel trailer in a retirement village, you do a lot of reflecting. There's not much else to do when the big events of the week are a pinochle game and a potluck, and the talk of the whole park is Mrs. Norris's wonderful homemade strawberry preserves. What excitement!

Can't get too excited though. You know how Ernie's blood pressure is.

Now that the wind's died down and the warm season is upon us, everything is still. The only traffic that goes by my little tin house is the occasional golf cart, and they don't make any noise. No skateboards, no dogs barking, no dope deals being made except those transacted in hushed tones at the doctor's office.

It's a big change from living on a busy corner in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, where diesel buses stop and start up again every fifteen minutes all day and night, skateboards are constantly rumbling by, tires are screeching, horns are honking, inebriates are inebriating and psychotics are psychoticizing.

I'm alone with my own thoughts, which were recently stimulated by an e-mail from a guy I haven't heard from in over 40 years, and who was one of my main road dogs in high school. He's done very well for himself -- I won't say where or doing what -- and after stumbling across one of my web sites he made the connection. Ain't the internet wonderful?

He set me to remembering things I haven't thought about forever. So I just had to e-mail him:

Hey Name Omitted--

Remember the time you and me and K------ were sleeping outside, and you and K------ rang Mr. Bitch's doorbell at three in the morning? You guys almost got collared, because Mr. Bitch was an early devotee of electronic security systems, as you found out.

I was chicken, so I hung out across the street in the woods and watched.

There was another time when I wasn't chicken though, which was when you and I and the aforementioned other suspect were walking up the street and this hot car full of hot shit drove by pretty loud and fast, and K------ yells "You assholes!" So they slammed on the brakes and started to back up, and K------ hollers "Let's get outta here!" and takes off running.

But I said, "Just keep walking," and we did, like a couple of tough guys. So the studs backed up a ways and were muttering something inaudible but vaguely menacing, then decided we weren't worth the effort. Either that or we really had 'em buffaloed with our cool savoir faire, our tough guy nonchalance, and that certain what the French call I don't know what. So they went on their way.

Those days were a lot of fun, except for having sex on the brain and never getting laid (every day was a long, hard day), and we didn't even have to use drugs or get likkered up.

So what are you doing for amusement these days?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Out of Dodge

I'll be on the launch pad in just a few hours, ready to leave the big city and return to the less hectic but equally strange environment of a retired people's trailer park in southern California.

It's relatively peaceful right now on my daughter's little corner of San Francisco as twilight descends on (another) rainy Saturday. There's a steady rumble of engines accelerating off the four-way stop, and senseless muttering streaming by intermittently on the sidewalk. Close by, the hushed tinkle of a large mammal urinating (it might be canine or human) adds to the atmosphere of decrescendo. A block away the bizarre bazaar of Haight Straight is still humming along, as tourists and pleasure-seekers jostle with degenerates on both sidewalk margins of a permanent traffic jam.

You interact mainly with two types of people here. The first are prosperous, sophisticated, generally young artists and technicians. They're graphic, tattoo, or computer artists, dancers, computer engineering types, entrepreneurs. They wear used clothing, get around on bicycles and skateboards and public transport, eat mung dal and rice and vegetables and tea, recycle everything, and are generally low-key and humble. They disdain bragging, pretension, and outrageous ambition. I look at them and see the future, big time.

The other group is the homeless, the doped-up and intoxicated, habitual criminals, and the beggar class. They include the addicted, the insane, the addled, and the depraved. Their behavior is generally loud, aggressive, inappropriate and unpleasant, and frequently violent.

There are other neighborhoods where the experience of the city would be strikingly different from what it is here -- the Castro, for example. But everywhere, San Francisco, and I suspect other big, rich cities, offer the emigrant a bipolar existence.

Friday, April 14, 2006


In one of the stranger stories of the year, Reuters reports:

BERLIN, April 14 - The U.S. government wants to deport a group of Chinese Muslims held at the Guantanamo prison camp to Germany and is pressuring Chancellor Angela Merkel to take in the ethnic Uighurs, a newspaper reported on Friday.

The German daily Die Welt quoted diplomatic sources saying Merkel's government has resisted the U.S. pressure to accept the 15 Uighurs from the restive, predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang in China's northwest.

How did 15 Uighurs, whose main beef is with the government of China, come to end up at Gitmo? And why are we pressuring Germany to take them?

The Uighurs are a repressed minority living in a remote area of China, and the Peking government has been trying to swamp their exotic and singular culture by encouraging large numbers of ethnic Chinese Han to emigrate to faraway and mountainous Xinjiang, but mainly all they've succeeded in doing is creating a kind of ersatz Uighur liberation movement.

Uighurs are also referred to as the Uigurs, Uygurs, Weiwuers, Sarts, Taranchis, or Kashgarliks. They live in that part of northern China is known as Eastern Turkestan, Ughuristan, Uyghuria, Chinese Turkistan, Xinjiang, or Singkiang, a remote mountainous region surrounded by Mongolia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, Tibet, Chinhai, and Gansu.

Sounds to me like they're Chinese Muslim hillbillies, and would feel right at home in Bakersfield.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Passover and Out

The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day, and domestic production accounts for six million of those. That means we have to get 14 million barrels a day from somewhere else, and most of the people that live in the most significant of those somewhere elses hate us. That's a problem.

The decision was taken sometime back that we can solve our problems by being the biggest, baddest s.o.b. on the planet. It's called "win by intimidation."

However, Immanuel Wallerstein offers his opinion in his book "The Decline of American Power" that "hawk interpretations are wrong and will only contribute to the United States' decline, transforming a gradual descent into a much more rapid and turbulent fall."

Wallerstein takes a brief survey of the superpowers of the past, and the countries that overtook them and replaced them, and concludes, "The dominant power concentrates (to its detriment) on the military; the candidate for successor on the economy. The latter pays off handsomely. It did for the United States."(Emphasis mine.)

The neocons, if they had any sense of history, would recall that our participation in WWII was late, modest, and restrained except for our material contribution from our factories and farms, and that at war's end we were the only undamaged superpower left standing.

We may have forgotten, but others haven't. You might want to think about exchanging your dollars for Yuan. John Ince in a recent piece at AlterNet observes, "In the last few weeks, we began to see signals that the consequences may come sooner than most Americans expect. According to Business Week, both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have raised their interest rates - which could signal that the days of foreign investors propping up the U. S. economy may soon be on the wane. Bottom line, this potentially will have serious consequences for all Americans, but especially for average Americans living on the edge of poverty.

"The first consequence will be a rapid decline in Americans' standard of living. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke insists the economy is strong, because many of the traditional measures of economic growth remain solid. Inventory levels, corporate profits and unemployment statistics all point towards continued growth. But what about the $3 billion a day that Americans cumulatively spend on interest payments? What about the estimated $834 billion that Americans have borrowed off their mortgages last year alone? Do average Americans have any kind of savings to use as a cushion in the event of a "hard landing?" Can an already-hard-working single mom just go back into the job market to make ends meet when serious inflation kicks in?

"Second, should our debt levels continue to increase at unsustainable rates, we will soon reach a point where foreign investors demand an interest rate premium for lending to us. Or worse yet, they may simply decide to put their money in other financial instruments than U. S. Treasury bonds, which will suck the wind out of the U. S. economy very rapidly and likely lead to recession or a depression."

That about covers it, except for the effects of four-to-five-dollar gas and the end of the housing bubble.

And while it's all true, I wish Ince had looked on the bright side. A poverty-stricken, debt-crippled U.S. government, will probably still be able to provide for the national defense, but will lose the ability to launch foreign wars. The influence of the national government will decline in every sector; there'll be a new emphasis on local production, consumption, and self-reliance. Isn't that what Grover Norquist wanted?

So let's celebrate the advent of bad times/good times. How convenient that tomorrow is Passover. I like Mattisyahu's idea: "Let's pass out for Passover," so somebody be sure to "bring some weed over" and we'll all drink "Mazeltov cocktails."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Rachel for Governor

My daughter Rachel, the famous belly dancer, has been nominated for governor by some of her fans.

After seriously contemplating the difficulties that attend a political career and the gravity of being honored in this way (for about five minutes), she and I decided she should go for it.

Herewith, Rachel Brice's platform and list of vague and frivolous promises. She is now the founder of a new party -- the Abdominal Snowpersons.

1. When elected Governor, I will see to it that California secedes from the United States and becomes an independent country. Except for Orange County. The United States deserves Orange County.

Then of course I won't be the Governor, I'll be the Maharini.

2. California will issue its own currency. The unit of value will be the Zaghareet, divided into herns, splebes, and taxims.

3. Detroit and Yokohama will have to start building electric cars and trucks for the California market, because the internal combustion engine will be outlawed.

4. The state motto will be changed from "Eureka" to "You can't have too much jewelry."

5. California's schools will be reformed. Hot dog Monday will be replaced by Falafel Friday. No more of those nasty fish sticks. Physical ed will consist of yoga; football teams will be replaced by Scrabble teams.

6. The California mascot will be the golden ferret rather than the golden bear.

7. I'll move the executive mansion from Sacramento to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, and have my inauguration on Treasure Island. The Indigo will dance. It will be the first ever navel engagement in San Francisco Bay. Everyone's invited.

8. Gay marriage will be outlawed. Heterosexual marriage will also be outlawed, because we don't intend to discriminate against straight people.

9. I will create a Department of Caring, Sharing, and Relating.

10. Everybody has to have fun.

Monday, April 10, 2006

True Devotion

The great god Shiva left home one morning to go out on a big job. He had to travel to a faraway corner of the universe to incinerate several galaxies, so as to clear the way for a new subdivision. Parvati, his wife, was home alone and bored.

She decided to take a long, sleepy bath, with bubbles and perfumes and all the works, and didn’t want to be bothered or interrupted by servants or neighbors or one of Krishna’s broken-hearted cowgirls coming in to cry on her shoulder. So after answering nature’s call she made a fleshy, strong-looking young boy from her own dirt, and set him to guard the bathroom door.

“Don’t let anybody in,” she told him. “I want to be completely alone and quiet for about three hours.”

“Don’t worry, Lady,” said the young Hercules. “Anybody who wants to go in there and pester you will have to do so over my dead body.”

Parvati got into her tub and started soaking. After awhile a servant came to the door and told the young boy-guard it was his job to ask the mistress if she wanted tea, but he was told to go away. Then a too-eager male neighbor showed up saying he had lost one of his cows, and wanting to ask the mistress if it might have wandered into her side of heaven. But he was put off with, “She’s not seeing anyone right now; come back later.”

Then Shiva showed up. He was tired and in a bad mood. “Let me in there,” he said brusquely to the young and handsome doorkeeper whom he had never seen before. “I want to see my wife.”

“How do I know you’re really her husband?” the youth shot back, “Besides, she told me not to let anybody in.”

“You insolent little shit,” Shiva yelled, not knowing how literally accurate he was, “don’t you know who I am?”

“I don’t care if you’re one of the holy trinity,” the doorman calmly replied, “You’re not going in there.”

“I am one of the trinity,” the god bellowed, as he drew his sword and in one motion struck off the doorkeeper’s head.

Parvati couldn’t stop crying. In less than one day this newly-minted servant had shown himself more faithful than any other servant, friend, lover, or pet she had ever known. She was deeply touched by his unyielding devotion, and his willingness to lay down his new life for her.

After a couple days of this Shiva couldn’t take any more. He sent his crew to look for an animal – any animal – and bring back its head. “The first creature you find facing north,” he instructed them, “an ox, a snake, a tiger – it doesn’t matter.”

They soon found a northward-facing elephant, returned with its massive head, and watched as the god attached it to the dead youth’s body. Thus Ganesha, the corpulent, gentle, elephant-headed deity was born.

Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, and should always be consulted prior to a new undertaking. He is the emblem of immutability and faithfulness, and of that friendship and devotion that can’t be moved, shaken, or destroyed. He’s very humble for a god, and while the rest of the pantheon ride in grand chariots or on majestic beasts such as the tiger, Ganesha is transported about by a lowly rat. He shares the elephant’s benevolent nature and mild disposition.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

More on Nuking Iran

Jeralynn Merritt at TalkLeft has more on Sy Hersh's New Yorker article and also covers his appearance with Wolf Blitzer on CNN today.

Asked about the administration's plan to use "tactical" nukes in Iran, Hersh replied, "I'm saying that, if this isn't walked back and if the president isn't told that you cannot do it -- and once the chairman of the joint chiefs or some senior members of the military say to the president, let's get this nuclear option off the table, it will be taken off. He will not defy the military in a formal report. Unless something specific is told to the White House that you've got to drop this dream of a nuclear option -- and that's exactly the issue I'm talking about -- people have said to me that they would resign."

When Blitzer asked Hersh for the names of senior brass who said they would resign if Bush employed the "nuclear option," he of course did not reveal them, but added, "... one thing about our military is they're very loyal to the president, but they're getting to the edge. They're getting to the edge with not only Rumsfeld but also with Cheney and the president."


Bush is planning to nuke Iran, according to this article by Seymour Hersh in the lastest (4/17) issue of the New Yorker.

Read paragraph 13. Better yet, read the whole thing.

If the U.S. actually follows through with this mad scheme, not only will it put the crimes we've committed in this century up till now in the shade, but will place Bush in the top spot in the museum of history's monsters, along with Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, and Attila the Hun.

Are we ready yet to do whatever it is that needs to be done to stop these lunatics?

Friday, April 07, 2006

When Opportunity Knocks

It's unlikely that Laura Albert planned the J.T. LeRoy hoax. In 1997 when she was in her early thirties, she got wind of a planned anthology of memoirs to be called "Close to the Bone," and sensing an opportunity wrote the story "Baby Doll," supposedly the recollections of a transgendered, abused, and drug-addicted teenager. She submitted it under the name "Terminator."

Albert's story was the only one in the collection that generated buzz -- a very significant buzz as it turned out, which led to more opportunities. Soon the young author's work began appearing in literary and alternative culture publications such as Spin, and his gathering notoriety necessitated Albert's creating a more substantial identity for him. He became J.T. LeRoy (the "J" for Jeremy, the "T" for Terminator), 18, painfully shy and only willing to communicate through e-mails.

By the time the novel "Sarah" came out the demands of publicity made it necessary for LeRoy to assume a flesh-and-blood form, so Albert's partner's half sister, Savannah Knoop, was recruited to play the part at parties and book events. Knoop was not particularly convincing, however, and people began to grow suspicious.

For a lifelong hustler like Laura Albert, the sequence of opportunities that gave rise to the LeRoy hoax presented themselves serially. She never sat down and planned to create a best-selling author angling for major-studio movie rights, but simply moved stepwise as doors opened and public, critical, and celebrity credulity widened.

Anyway, it's not my purpose here to pass judgment on Laura Albert, but only to evaluate the quality of her writing and diagnose the nature of the response to it. In this society, hustling is at least as honorable an occupation as doing public relations for Dow Chemical, or writing ad copy for The Gap, and I don't blame the former would-be rock diva, porn site reviewer, and phone sex operator for taking advantage of the first opportunity she ever had to strike the big vein.

The cover story began to unravel in 2005. In October of that year a New York Magazine article by Stephen Beachy contended that there was no such person as J.T. LeRoy and that Laura Albert was the real author. A January, 2006 New York Times offered evidence that LeRoy was played publicly by Savannah Knoop, and the following month Geoffrey Knoop confirmed for the Times that Albert, his partner of 16 years, was the real author.

Last month the true story of J.T. LeRoy broke open all over the internet, just prior to the Hollywood release of the movie of "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things." It will be fascinating to see what happens with the film now, but probably not as interesting as monitoring the reactions of Lou Reed, Courtney Love, Wynona Ryder, Peter Fonda, Carrie Fisher, and all the other celebrity sophisticates who became LeRoy devotees. Even more embarrassed, one would think, will be Publishers Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Hubert Selby, Jr., Vanity Fair -- the list is long and the faces smeared with egg innumerable.

Tomorrow I'll limit myself strictly to a critical analysis of the work that has caused so many people so much trouble.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pipe Dreams

American lit has come a long way since the glory days of Steinbeck and J.D. Salinger. And wasn't it a long way down?

The adolescent sensation J.T. LeRoy, whose stories garnered so much west-coast celebrity adulation and so many one-star reviews on, turns out to have been an unperson -- a hoax. The entire sad and dissolute tale is available for your perusal at (note: the site pass is easy; just watch a commercial and you can read the whole thing).

Without having actually plumbed the transexual and drug-addled depths of this counterfit oeuvre, my impression is that it reflects the decadence and world-weariness of the San Franicisco, New York, and Los Angeles urban scenes, and shows once again, as if we needed another demonstration, that sophistication without purpose is a dead end.

I'll have more later. I could have picked up a copy of "Sarah" or "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things" this evening, but I didn't want to pay fourteen bucks for a slim paperback that's soon to be consigned to the museum of fake Rolexes and wooden nickels. I'll hit the used book stores tomorrow. I'm really curious to evaluate a ruse which fooled a lot of people who should have known better.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tough Nancy

The chances of the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives next year are looking better all the time. Since Nancy Pelosi will be the Speaker of the House if that happens (she'd be the first female to hold that position), she deserves a close look.

The San Francisco Chronicle is currently running a three-part series on Pelosi which emphasizes her toughness and determination. She has excellent organizational skills, and her fund raising capacity has been second only to Tom DeLay's over the last few years.

She puts the money she raises to different uses than DeLay did, however, and has avoided the taint of corruption. When the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group, investigated her financial dealings they found nothing that indicated any wrongdoing. "There was no sign that she enriched herself personally by her official actions," investigator Ken Boehm said. "She didn't cross over the line as far as I could tell. If she did and I could prove it, I'd still be working on it."

Pelosi rose to leadership of her party in the House because she is a born leader and a life-long party stalwart. As Marc Sandalow and Erin McCormick, authors of the Chronicle series put it in their opening piece, "Pelosi presides over the House Democrats not because of her public image but because she has unified her caucus in their opposition to President Bush, seized on GOP disharmony and led her party members to believe they can soon become the majority...She is a disciplinarian, who threatens to revoke privileges of members who buck the party line. And she knows how to manage the other 200 egos that constitute the House Democratic caucus."

The Speaker-to-be represents CA-8, which consists of about three-quarters of the city of San Francisco, excepting the southwest quadrant, known locally as the Sunset District or "the avenues." Pelosi's district is perhaps the most liberal in the country, but that has not prevented her being criticized by leftists who find her too willing to look for wiggle room on controversial issues. For example, when Democratic Representative Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania first advocated a retrenchment of American forces in Iraq, it took Pelosi a full two weeks to unambiguously endorse his position.

For her, party unity is the main objective. This was never more clear than it was on March 29 when she stood side by side with Senate minority leader Harry Reid to unveil the Democrats'"Real Security" Plan, two of whose key provisions are "eliminating Osama bin Laden" and a "responsible redeployment of U.S. forces" from Iraq in 2006.

Still, it's debatable whether Democratic control of the House, or even the entire Congress, could help to pull the country out of the morass into which it has sunk. Leftist bloggers and pundits point out accurately that Democrats have been just as complicit in the rise and institution of the war machine as Republicans. The party has not seriously challenged the dominance of the military, military contractors, and the intelligence services over the budget process, and at times Democrats (like Murtha, for example) have been among the military-industrial complex's biggest cheerleaders.

Congress's low point was when it allowed itself to be intimidated and railroaded into supporting the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq. There were few dissenting voices in the Senate, and only 133 representatives voted against it.

Nancy Pelosi was one of them.

The first two parts of the SF Chronicle series on Pelosi are here and here.

Toad Warts

I've always avoided handling toads, because if you do that you'll get warts on your hands. You might ask how I could know that, because since I've never actually picked up a toad there's no way of knowing. Nevertheless, that's my opinion.

I'm entitled to my opinion, as everybody is. And one opinion is as good as another, right?

The moon is made of green cheese. That's my opinion.

We're fighting in Iraq because the former dictator of that country was threatening us with weapons of mass destruction, and was a pal of al-Qaida, the gang of terrorists who attacked us on 9/11/01. That's not just my opinion, it's also the opinion of many, many others. Just check the Powerline blog.

How could someone as good looking and smart as me be descended from the same line of ancestors as apes? My opinion is that an assertion like that is ludicrous.

So screw reality. In my opinion, we don't have to pay any attention to it. We make our own reality.

After all, there are two sides to every issue.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Just a Couple of Tings...

Anybody besides me planning to be at YearlyKos in Vegas in June? (I'd provide the link, but the website is timing out right now for some reason.) TBogg alerts us to the possibility that there might a wingnut welcoming committee. It's probably just talk, though -- the usual sound and fury, signifying what it inevitably does.


Buy this. It's brilliant.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Skip the Jesus, Leave the Bread and Wine

Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) says people in western Europe "have nothing to live for."

In an address to the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference last night, Santorum spoke in broad and general terms about the role Christian faith plays in U.S. culture. He feels we're in much better spiritual condition than those irreligious and decadent societies on the other side of the pond, despite the fact that their currency is beating our currency all around the town, the way the lion did the unicorn.

But Santorum had nothing to say about currency exchange rates. "Those cultures are dying," the Senator claimed. "People are dying. They're being overrun from overseas...and they have no response. They have nothing to fight for. They have nothing to live for."

On the other hand, the spiritual superiority of God's favored people is shown by the purported fact that "More people go to church on Sunday in America than go to all of the sporting events in America held in a year combined."

A year combined with what? I'd like to know.

American piety notwithstanding, it seems to me Europeans have not despaired of the future. They're having economic problems, just as we are, but are laying out considerably less in military expenditures than us, both as a percentage of GDP and in total dollars. All the countries of western Europe together spend slightly more than $200 billion yearly on their armed forces. We spend between 300 and 400 billion a year, and have been doing so (in 2002 dollars) since 1950.

Right now we're spending over 400 billion annually, and that's not even counting the costs of the Iraq War.

The Vietnam War wiped out our gold reserves, causing Nixon to take the country off the gold standard. The Iraq war, along with the balance of trade defecit and our skyrocketing national debt, is going to bankrupt us.

So I have to disagree with Senator Santorum. Those decadent Europeans may not have Jeeziz, but they've got something we don't -- a future. They were in business before we were, and they're planning to be around after we're gone.

Plus, even though California is producing a lot of good wine now, French, Italian, and German wines are still unbeatable. On top of that, outside of San Francisco and New York, you can't get a decent piece of bread in this country. You have to go to France or Italy for that.

Christianity has shown itself to be a decidedly mixed blessing for the world, but there's no doubt about the redeeming and life-sustaining qualities of good bread and wine. So give us this day our daily bread. And some cheese to put on it.