Friday, December 16, 2011

Halcyon Venues

I was a performer at a company holiday party recently, and in the aftermath was talking to people about having been in a band , and what sort of "wild" (or not) things we did and saw. And it made me want to see what I could find about our late-seventies musical context.

As we moved to a sort of pivotal era in Sacramento in 1978, our manager, utterly in character here:

- got us a gig, amazingly, opening for Talking Heads, who on a support tour for their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, agreed to play at a club called Cassidy's, and moreover, to charge a mere dollar for entry. Now Talking Heads '77 was not a debut album to catapult the band into a limelight much greater than, say, Was/Not Was (who? you might say), who had a debut at about the same time. But we thought they were phenomenal, or at the very least a couple of us did, and not just because of the somewhat specialty-tunish "Psycho Killer", this in particular still amazes me, not least because it wasn't on the record:

This is the sort of song that would have been played on Shake Some Action, a show on the Davis, California radio campus station KDVS at that time which featured "new wave" or punk new releases. And that show was influenced by what was happening at the Davis Coffee House, a single-story campus venue with a concrete floor accommodating perhaps an audience of 300, which became a concert venue casting a long shadow; on the SSA blog there's a recounting of some of the interesting events at the time:

"The Ramone's[sic] had tilted at the windmill of Sacramento's turgid rock scene at Slick Willy's in 1976. Sacramento bands like the Twinkeyz, Ozzie and Permanent Wave appeared on the scene the following year...A local bar named Cassidy's had made an effort to bring in some Bay Area talent....
And then the great coup! [Local impresario Peter] Afterman booked Elvis Costello & the Attractions to perform Feb. 8th, 1978 ... The tix were a pricey (for the time) $5.75! ...In the next year and a half [there and at the Davis Coffee House], Afterman brought in a slew of other top-level performers into the tiny venue: George Thorogood & the Destroyers, The Greg Kihn Band,.. Devo (which sold out almost a month in advance with tix only $2.50), Dave Edmunds and Rockpile (w/ Nick Lowe); "

And the list of influentials continues for the Coffee House, including XTC (supporting Drums and Wires) and The Police on the heels of their hit first album. It was impossible to see some of these acts as a performer and remain unchanged, and we were lucky to have tickets to many of them, particularly those who enjoyed multi-decade careers, for they continue to influence millenials. And, wonder of wonders, that chaotic 1976 gig of three local bands included something of a future star in a guest capacity, Kendra Smith of The Suspects:

When my quick researches were done, I found myself wondering whether there are still 300-seaters hosting soon-to-be legends. Sure hope so.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Magnificent Obsession

"My experience is nothing compared to what they have to deal with."
- Stephen Millhouse, walker for the homeless

I was struck by a recent story in the local paper about a man who decided to make a protracted forced march  for the homeless.

He decided not to concern himself with slings and arrows like our current 60+ mph wind gusts or anything else that might betide, but just to set out without another thought on foot for many days.

My first thought was of a friend who in high school around 1970 decided to try for the continuous pinball-playing record. He went for around two days, got his picture in the paper, and found out firsthand what it was to hallucinate due to exhaustion. I don't recall if it was a world record, but in any case he was handily outdone just a few years later by one Mr. Mowry, who went a full three days, losing feeling in his legs, among other things, on the way to  his victory .

The emphasis has gone down on continuous or repetitive events, at least in Guinness-Book-land - although 32 hours of continuous kissing was a notable relatively recent accomplishment - but certain people will always gravitate toward such things. And though there's something intuitive about that fact, what sort of personality lies behind it has remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I have never had the itch to run a marathon, deploy a hula hoop for a protracted time, or play Risk for 72 hours, just to say I did it, or have some particular sense of accomplishment.

One thing I did that ran somewhat in that vein was a commitment I made to myself, in the summer after high school graduation, to read a list of books, around twenty or a few more as I recall. It was a fairly dull, typically hot Sacramento summer, and blasting through a reading list in front of a fan seemed about right - "Franny and Zooey", "The Martian Chronicles", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Wind in the Willows", and quite a few more provided punctuation to visits to a neighbor's swimming pool, lawn mowing, and getting the latest Mad magazine issue. I don't recall having the sense, at any point, of an impending deadline, or a feeling of "long haul", although as I initially assembled the list, it seemed largish.

And much later, I pursued my own version of the "Infinite Summer", D.F. Wallace readers' commitment to finishing his opus "Infinite Jest" in three months; mine was an Infinite Fall. But, again, that fall's activity didn't have that sort of "marathon" sense, and I wonder if I would have pursued it if it had. And I wonder if, on the times that I walked for ten miles and decided to pack it in rather than plan for twenty next time, I came to my senses or just wimped out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Cinema

I finally saw Terence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). I almost saw it in a theater, which would have been preferable, but for various reasons, I did not. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It's some kind of weird mix between a 1950's family character study, 2001 A Space Odyssey and even a bit or two from Francois Truffaut's Farenheit 451. It is not to be entered into lightly. It is "poetic" in the sense that some films are: the main points of the movie are "surmised", not spelled out. The parts regarding Brad Pitt's character and his family are very "understandable" and straightforward. The rest of it is not.

And that's where the 2001 reference comes in. Part of the film lingers on what seem to be primordial excretions near the beginning of the creation of the cosmos. And much of the film continues in that vein as our planet finds a way to sustain life as we know it, from the earliest forms thru the dinosaurs and beyond. And of course the whole thing is informed in that Malick-y way: long unbroken tracking shots, asides to the sky, trees and other natural phenomena, a methodical, unhurried approach to "story-telling", a complete antithesis to the current Hollywood approach.

A week after I saw it, I watched another film I had wanted to see for years: Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966). I remember first hearing about Tarkovsky sometime in the 70's, and saw Solaris at the time. I liked it okay, but didn't get all the "fuss". Of course, his reputation had already been made with Andrei Rublev: for those of you who are unafraid of facing a three and a half hour mainly black and white Russian film, this is marvelous. In a strange bit of synchronicity, it became all too apparent where much of Malick's "inspiration" must come from. Rublev is divided into about seven "parts", most of them NOT about the very real artist Andrei Rublev; he is a peripheral character in many sections. It takes place in the early 17th century, and the Prologue is about a man who is trying to take a flight in a very primitive hot air balloon while a large group of what appear to be peasants try to stop him. And then it goes places I never expected it to go, and because of some of those places, the Russian government "banned" it for 20 years or so. A lot of it moves like molasses, incredible tracking shots involving the most fascinating actor's faces, and cutaways to the Russian sky and landscapes. The film moves along from around 1600 to about 1624, and there are titles that tell you what year you're in and who a lot of the people are, but it's a film of magnificent parts, that actually do come together towards the end, but in an oblique and non-literal way.

These approaches to shooting scenes remind me of several shots in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be Blood -  gorgeous, uninterrupted tracking shots that require incredible choreography and the co-ordination of many people, actors and tech crew alike. It is the yin to most modern film making's yang, wherein fast cuts and incomprehensible "action" sequences add up to nothing except the illusion of craft. This week's recommendation: slow down and sink in to The Tree of Life and Andrei Rublev. But have some "expectation" of what lies ahead, lest you run shrieking from the experience. Be open and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leashing the Clouds

The legislative Big News this week, apart from the approaching budget deadline, is the beginning of the congressional discussions around the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and IP Protection acts, which attempt to hold disseminators of unlicensed copyrighted material liable for that material, with, for the first time in a non-peer-to-peer setting, the assumption that ignorance is not an excuse. The high-profile target of this attention is YouTube, whose self-policing has apparently been inadequate relative to the perception of content distributors like, for instance, the media giant Viacom. A central question: can entertainment be profitable in the information era? And the subquestions: is it possible to reduce the accessibility to unlicensed distribution on the internet? or is it possible to monetize it more effectively, effectively enough to make it worth a content producer's while?

One blogger weighed in on the debate with this question in distilled form: How will you gauge SOPA's success (if it passes)?  The thread of responses is fascinating, and kind of a triumph of discourse in the flame-heavy webisphere:

When the internet is ... controlled entirely by the companies which can afford to pay for laws, then the success of SOPA will have been fully realized

With SOPA, there is great potential that [it may become] harder to find stuff, harder to obtain it, and more effort and risk comes into trying to get it, [and] the soft middle will start to lean back to legal sources.

Why can't I give money directly to every musician I like, instead of paying the labels and leaving virtually nothing in the pockets of the artists?

They learned a lesson from Napster. Going to court won the battle, but they still lost the war. ... This bill is about shutting things down faster, before people's perspectives can change.

Right now, The Pirate Bay, Rapidshare, Filesonic, and dozens of others operate in PLAIN SIGHT, and ONLY that wacky legal loophole of separate links and hosting keeps them all from being shut down.

You'll ... get a lot more sharing of physical media, and make better hackers and hacking programs, since people will have to hack their own software.

Youtube appears thus far to be operating on its seed capital.  Great example, guys.

if you are not vary tech savvy, the cost of infringement scares you because you do not know how to get around it and avoid it. Those people tend to take the easier, safer, convenient route, which is to pay for everything

US Movie revenue:
1995 = $5.29bn
2011 = $9.98bn
Worldwide Live Music / Concert Revenues:
2006 = $16.6bn
2011 = $23.5 bn
Worldwide Music Industry Revenues:
2006 =$60.7 bn
2011 =$67.6 bn
Worldwide Music Publishing Revenues:
2006 =$8.0 bn 
2011 =$9.4 bn

so i am guessing these figures will continue to go up as they have done (surprisingly, without SOPA), or maybe go down after SOPA??

I also see you don't voice any concerns regarding collateral damage. This bill is taking a "nuke the ant hill" approach to pest control. Your going to be taking out quite a few friendlies with this one, I think the pirate culture is going to build on that one and although you will see a short term gain, your going to get hammered in the end.

.I will now look into what Ron Paul is about.I will vote for any who does not fit in with the Big Money Political Marriage.I will also try and do a lawsuit against this SOPA as I am a musician who gives away my ART FOR FREE !

If Services like Netflix, and I would add Hulu, Spotify, Pandora etc to that, have already started the process of turning the soft middle from piracy, why do we need SOPA? Why not just create more services that are "easy, work, easy to find stuff, easy to download it, all automated and simple"

Unfortunately I think their only measure of success is simply passing the bill. Whether it actually changes anything seems irrelevant. It's all a big show of power at the public's expense.

Ironically the tech community bought these over reaching measures on themselves by rejecting ANY copyright based potential business models for the future. That left the old school copyright based industries no choice but to fight for its survival. You guys should have compromised and used your "intellect" to incorporate the new with the old - instead you said "screw copyrights"

In most cases, the entertainment industry has gone back a second time to the negotiating table after the business achieves some level of success and either:

a) jack up licensing rates to where neither the distributors go out of business and nobody makes money, or 
b) demands that the usefulness of the technology be curtailed (features removed [e.g. hulu], or more release windows)

Almost every instance makes it look like the entertainment industry has less interest in making money, and more interest in controlling everything.

 Instead of spending billions trying to hold back the flood the money should be investing in embracing new technology and finding new ways to generate revenue while providing customers what they want...

I went to google and entered cars 2, all of the links on the front page were to legitimate content, but none of them led me to a site or location where I could pay for and download the movie.

If the MPAA or the RIAA were to spend even 1/10 of the money they have spent on lobbying, litigating, "re-educating", etc. building a quality, useful, legal service then we wouldn't be having this conversation.

With entertainment like this, who needs Pirate's Bay?

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Anniversary Remembered

"Here's a thing that is hard to imagine: being so inventive a writer that when you die, the language is impoverished. That's what Wallace's [death] did...It wasn't just a sad thing, it was a blow." John Sullivan

I don’t often add books to my “Best Novels” list. The more you keep reading, the more the “thrill/joy/epiphany” of literary discovery happens less and less. You get jaded. You know what you like, even if it’s a broad spectrum, and you stick to it. I do try new authors, and I very often enjoy them, but it’s rare that one bursts out of the pack. I’m too old. I’ve read too much. So how the hell did Infinite Jest land on my desert island Top Ten?

September of this year was the third anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. At that time, my familiarity with his work started and ended with some of his non-fiction essays. And I read them in the magazines they appeared in, not in the collections. So thru the years I’d stumble across one of his essays, not really knowing who he was, and I was hooked – the intense, unrelenting drive to get to the subject’s core, to question everything, especially commonly held cultural “beliefs” (including his own), the loopy sentences that are always fascinating, the moments of “holy shit” stop your reading right now and marvel at what was just written, not in a “show-offy” way, but in an elegant, what an amazingly well constructed who is this guy way. I understood that he had also written a thousand page novel that the “elite” had canonized, but no way was I going to take that trip.

I don’t remember where I first saw the news that he was gone. Probably Salon. At that point, I was interested enough to dig a little deeper, in that “curious about this guy but he was no hero” sort of way. And a funny thing happened. As I began to read what people were saying about him, I was absolutely amazed at the emotional depth of the comments. His students (he taught at Pomona College) were almost uniform in relating how incredibly generous he was as a teacher, especially for being such a Literary Big Deal. His readers seemed heartbroken in a weirdly personal way. Comments were genuinely heartfelt across the board. I was intrigued. Could this be real? Maybe I should give his phone book a try.

Shortly thereafter, a coupla years ago, someone started a site called Infinite Summer and challenged people to take three months and read the novel, and Spencer said he’d join me if I did it, and we both read it, and there you have it. And now here I am, just giving DFW a little shoutout after his sad anniversary, and recommending to anyone who will listen: go read Infinite Jest. Check out the Infinite Summer site first; it’ll help you with some very worthwhile “tips”. The book is hilarious, terrifying, thought-provoking, melancholy, beautifully written. It’s a sci-fi story about tennis, addiction and family (among other things). You’ll be doing yourself a great favor.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A New Occupation

RE: You can tell the difference between a liberal and conservative by the following test. A liberal believes that changes in taxes have very little effect on production, but huge effects favorable on distribution.
Folks like myself believe it's exactly the opposite. Very high tax rates or even small changes in taxes have very adverse effects on production...

PS: You think that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates wouldn't have done what they had done with higher marginal tax rates?

RE: Well, yes, because they just don't do it. They have to be able to get investors to sign up for their things. Those investors have to have disposable income.
- "Does U.S. Economic Inequality Have a Good Side?" - The News Hour, 10/26/11, Paul Solman interviewing libertarian law professor Richard Epstein. 

In the last day or two, the local-ish "Occupy" demonstration Occupy Oakland has accreted some negative headlines, partly engendered by one participant with an AK-47 slung across his back, presumably to cover two amendments' worth of expression instead of one, who increased the threat of police response earlier in the day. Several of the protesters had the "we are the 99%" signs that are as close to a position statement as can be had of a somewhat diffusely disaffected group, and many protesters had already endured at least one rainy day in the name of advancing their message.

Part of the central issue uniting these groups is the trend toward greater disparity between rich and poor, and the degree to which government policy can either increase or reduce it. As I heard the Solman/Epstein exchange, my initial thought was, yeah, right, Gates would have said, why even go into business if they're going to tax me to death, assuming the rate had been, say, five percent higher at the point where he was pitching his operating system to Apple in the eighties. It's just not remotely plausible; entrepreneurs love complaining about regulations and taxes - well, sooner or later, everybody does - but their motivations are reliable; they crave excitement, power, big profits, interesting projects, but the government stuff is just a speed bump. And with the wind at their back even to the extent of Gates in 1986, what VC is going to say, sorry, I don't have the money...

But then inevitably I thought about the other side of the ideological spectrum. Courtesy the Left Business Observer, a small chart that illustrates pretty well a trend since 1968:

Here's a quote from the reliably left Noam Chomsky from back then:

"Roughly speaking, I think it's accurate to say that a corporate elite of managers and owners governs the economy and the political system as well, at least in very large measure. The people, so-called, do exercise an occasional choice among those who Marx once called 'the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class.' "

This seems fairly overblown as well, and is pretty standard stuff for current plutocracy-phobes. Could Jobs have amassed that much wealth from his company if relatively "little people" had not become enamored of the gadgets? And furthermore, who knows categorically that he did not favor wealth redistribution as a policy, and go about throwing money at advancing those ends? And, for all that our president might be somewhat in the thrall of monied special interests, what does it mean, in the context of the Chomsky quote, that his campaign was primarily financed at a grassroots level?

It really is a shame we can't occupy ourselves with some talk about moderation, at least in rhetoric, but it appears that the Cain and Perry  campaigns alone will make that improbable.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Next Chapter

“Parenting is hard. As anyone who has gone through the process and had enough leisure (and still functioning brain cells) to reflect on it knows, a lot of it is a crapshoot. Things go wrong that you have no control over, and, on occasion, things also go right, and you have no control over those, either. The experience is scary and exhilarating and often humiliating, not because you’re disappointed in your kids, necessarily, but because you’re disappointed in yourself." Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

“I don’t think anybody feels like they’re a good parent. Or if people think they’re good parents, they ought to think again.” Joan Didion

In general, the first dozen or so years of child-rearing are a bracing, mind-altering, life-affirming time that forever changes our lives. It seems most people see their kids as little extensions of themselves, molding and folding them to present to the world, almost as new improved versions of Mom and Dad. It can be very exciting and thrilling as new worlds are discovered and new accomplishments are achieved. Of course, there can be tragic detours, brought about by one or more of the adults in the child’s life, or by mother nature herself, but barring this kind of interference (and sometimes in spite of it), the first half of the journey to adulthood is managed and controlled by the parents with ever growing skill and self-satisfaction.

Then something happens. It’s perfectly natural, but is often greeted with the most aghast kind of amazement. It can happen very early on (puberty will usually kickstart the process), or it can take awhile, sometimes years: children begin to mutate into adults, and seek to abandon their parental shackles. The process can last many years, but it involves the child’s exit from their parents’ “story” so they can begin one of their own, where they are the “protagonist”, and their parents are supporting characters. The arc of the first dozen years continues for the parents, but is diminished; the child begins a new arc and hopefully flourishes. It is traumatic and unnerving for the parents, even in the best of circumstances (and most families don’t experience “the best”).

I remember growing up in my first dozen years and always being somewhat puzzled and bemused when my mother would relay a compliment I had received from another adult. It seemed to make her very happy; I was okay with it, but often felt that she was “overreacting”. I didn’t really care so much about that adult’s “approval” one way or the other. In my next five or six years, I continued being the “good son”; my sister, on the other hand, was a true rebel, jumping out of the gate at around 13 with youthful bravado and strong will (how and why two siblings can be so different is fodder for another post). Though I made a few half-hearted attempts at defying authority, I didn’t really start my own story till I was in college, and then with a vengeance, but my parents were spared most of that because I was no longer living at home.

But despite being the kind of teenager parents might wish for (respectful, good grades, stayed out of “trouble”), I never followed the career path my mother would have preferred. She would periodically ask me, throughout my teen years and well beyond, “Don’t you think you’d like to be a doctor or lawyer?” Well, the idea was preposterous to me, not because I didn’t think I could accomplish either goal (I was always full of self-confidence), but because neither of those careers seemed to have much of a draw for me, and also because at a very early age I was infected by a “performance/artist” bug. My father didn’t seem to “care” what path I took, and at least outwardly supported my goals. Actually, my mother did, too, but I could have really made her day by adding a “Dr.” to my name.

To Be Continued

Thursday, October 13, 2011

By iDesign

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. Steve Jobs 

I remember my first impression of the new era of Apple. My family was in San Francisco for one of the last performances of the popular "found instrument" show "Stomp!", and ate before the show at a restaurant on the second floor across the street. As I looked out the window, above the theater building was a billboard, all white except for an IPod centered, with the San Serif letters "IPod" below - very much in the spirit of many VW campaigns.

Could it actually be that it was only ten years ago? I remember being aware of, and having seen, various players before then, and myself had an MP3 CD player at the time, a device whose shelf life turned out to be fleeting. And as I looked at the IPod, I recall thinking that the main difference between it and the other players was that it was more stylish and more expensive. The engineering triumph was first and foremost the ring-navigation patent, that doughnut that instantly identifies the Apple player.

Not long after the IPad's introduction, someone in my office made a comment, "Only Mac-haters buy Androids." It appears now that claim is not accurate, though it may have been more so at the time. My office is a group of people who develop on and for Windows primarily, and the Mac adopters have fallen into a couple of categories: those who think the IPad is cool but can't relate to it in the work context; those who have done IPod or IPad apps, some of whom have ended up at Apple; and those who sort of cross over between the two. After it was released, our VP made a point of getting one and making it available for people to play with, since he saw it as an opportunity as well as a cool device. In general, in our microcosm, any given person is as likely to get an Android phone as an IPhone, and the same would apply to tablets or players or other mobile gadgets. And we've expended as much effort on supporting Android as Apple's Ios environment.

For those who proclaim the death of the PC - and our VP posted an article to that effect a little while ago - there are some impediments, or perhaps some provisos. For white collar types, who might like me be moving between sometimes lengthy emails and writing programs, or building and tweaking spreadsheets, or even doing CAD, you immediately see the same pattern as the docked laptop - you're not going to want to lose a "real" keyboard, nor are you going to want less screen real estate. And so far the analogs of shift-click and ctrl-click in various applications are not there. So you can assume that, if and when you use an IPad or something like it at work, you will hang various things off it, so in that context the difference between it and a "PC" is fairly token.

On the other hand, I talked with my brother-in-law about his IPad, which he loves to death and uses "in the field" as a realtor. He loves being able to browse a listing or just Google something wherever he is, and with whomever - the business and pleasure is blurred, and that feels fine. So I said, well, what about emailing? And he said, no problem, and went to the email app - and began one-finger hunting and pecking. I realized that he's more in the motif of the text message - a de facto tweet limit more or less - so he doesn't really care about the efficiency of the operation. 

But I figure that, in the scenario of replying to an email, after I'm done with [shift-down][ctrl-c][ctrl-home][ctrl-v] to paste in a quote of the message I received to the reply, he's probably still looking for whatever the thing is in that context that copies to the clipboard. 

When all is said and done, it's probably abundant tribute to Steve J. that there is a device as sleek and simple as any of the iPods - and it's instantly recognizable as an Apple design even without the logo - and that it was his company that debuted the technology associated with the rich pinch and swipe behavior, regardless of where it ends up being a favored motif.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part VIII

(For Part I go here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here, Part VII here)

(photo by Donna Copeland-Fuller)

Within a few minutes, Mark and Jay came up over the levee, Mark with a club, Jay with a concealed knife. When Randy saw them, he immediately asked Bandana and Bugeye if either had a knife. Bandana pulled one out; Randy took it and started walking toward Mark and Jay.

Across the dirt area where the combatants were coming together, Paul was standing in what was commonly called the Shitter, a sunken area where people went to relieve themselves. From where he was pissing, he was a little below ground level, but facing the action. When he saw what was happening, he called out to his friend, "Gremlin, there's two guys going after Randy!" Gremlin, who was a little behind him, looked up and saw what was happening. Without a second thought, he ran out of the ditch and charged with a full head of steam at Jay, who didn't see him coming, concentrating as he was on Randy, who was coming at him with a knife.

Mark called out too late to warn his companion about the oncoming attack. Gremlin hit Jay with full force and they both fell too the ground. Jay got up, pulled out his knife, and the skirmish was on. A couple of minutes later, Gremlin was lying on the ground, holding his upper chest, and crying out. Randy ran to the nearby callbox and called the police, which is also what Paul was doing from his cell phone.

Mark and Jay cautiously retreated back away and down the levee back to Danny's house. Several police cars arrived within 10 minutes. As they began to sort things out, they went to Danny's front door; Mark and Jay came out. Both of them were immediately handcuffed.

As the cops shoved Mark into the back of a patrol car, the last thing he heard was his friend Danny asking him, "Marky Mark, what happened? What happened? How could this have happened?" Danny began sobbing.

"What about the protocol?"

(Postscript: Fifteen months later, Mark Hernandez and Jay Halford were found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. There were no charges or other actions against Tommy Duke or Randy Terrell.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Strolling Down Dominion Street

[Michelle Bachmann and her husband] experienced a second life-altering event: they watched a series of films by the evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer called “How Should We Then Live?” of the leading proponents of Schaeffer’s version of Dominionism is Nancy Pearcey, a former student of his [who wrote that there]  may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,...Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false—for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.”

- Ryan Lizza, "Leap of Faith",  New Yorker, 8/15/2011

"... conspiracy theories and visions of genocide are really excuses for the Left to disregard the rules of democracy and defeat conservative Christians..."

- journalist Stanley Kurtz

"What do all of us do? We get ready to take dominion! We get ready to take dominion! It is all going to be ours - I'm talking about all of it. Everything that you would say is a good part of the secular world. Every means of communication, the news, the television, the radio, the cinema, the arts, the government, the finance - it's going to be ours! God's going to give it to His people. We should prepare to reign and rule with Jesus Christ."

- Pat Robertson, from a speech in 1984

"Robertson’s campaign went exactly nowhere, and from that I drew a lesson: what I now know as “Dominionism” is doomed to’s fundamentally un-American, and the majority of Americans recognize it and will resist it...Let’s assume the worst possible case: Rick Perry is a “stealth Dominionist,” and wants to win the presidency in order to implement it in America. He wins the nomination, then wins the election. ...He’d need a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate to get the laws [passed]."

- blogger "Jay Tea"

"Both Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have conspicuously offered themselves as leaders to religio-political activists who, whatever their theological differences, largely share a belief that God’s Will on Earth requires the repeal of abortion rights and same-sex relationship rights, radical curtailment of government involvement in education or welfare, assertion of Christian nationhood in both domestic and international relations, and a host of other controversial initiatives. Does it ultimately matter, then, whether these activists consider themselves “dominionists” or “reconstructionists,” or subscribe to Bill Bright’s Seven Mountains theory of Christian influence over civic and cultural life? I don’t think so."

- Ed Kilgore, "Yes, Perry and Bachmann Are Religious Radicals", New Republic, 8/31/2011

" Indeed, looking across the American landscape, I’d say the Dark One has scant cause for lament amid  quavering pieces about the Dominionist threat which so delight  fundraisers for nonprofits touting the menace of Christian evangelism. "

- Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch, 9/19/11

"In late 2009, I noted that the Seven Mountains teachings had adherents among those in Uganda who were strongly pushing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill there. If passed as is, the AHB will make homosexuality a capital offense.  "

- Warren Throckmorton, “What Would Dominionists Do With Gays?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part VII

(For Part I go here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here)

Gremlin was a small, thin homeless man with a large shock of longish hair and beard that seemed to shoot out of his head like he'd been electrocuted. All of 114 pounds, he'd been homeless for about a dozen years and had spent most of those years living in the area on the other side of the levee from Basler Street, a lot of the time in a small ravine area called the Snakepit. He was well known in the community there, friendly, talkative and helpful to people. That morning he had been released from a few nights in jail, and his friend Paul was coming for a visit. Paul had been homeless for awhile, and the first night he found himself in the area, Gremlin had helped him with clothes and some protection from the elements. Paul never forgot that kindness and they became friends. Several years previous, Paul had gotten his act together and was now living with his girlfriend Lola in a modest house a few miles from the river. Paul would periodically return to the river, bringing food, clothes, beer and other things to Gremlin. That afternoon, Lola dropped Paul off at the river, where he asked about Gremlin. He was told that Gremlin had been released, but was gone at that moment. So Paul went to the store and bought a case of beer, which he brought back to the river.

He met up with Gremlin and a few other people about a quarter mile from the Snakepit. After a few hours, most of the beer was gone. Paul put one in his back pocket and Gremlin grabbed the last few. They said goodbye to the others they were with and set out walking to the Snakepit, where they hoped to say hello so some other friends.

Around 6:00 PM, as Paul and Gremlin were approaching the Snakepit, Randy returned to the street in front of Danny's house. He again began riding in circles in the street in front of the house, this time screaming at the house, "Why you wanna fight an old man, motherfuckers, if you wanna fight someone come on out and get some of this!" Danny, Mark, and Jay all looked out the kitchen window. Was this Tommy Duke? The guy looked like him, the guy was acting like him - but the guy wasn't making any sense with what he was saying. They couldn't be sure. Jay was livid - he thought it was Tommy and he was ready to make sure this stuff stopped once and for all. Mark decided to get a better look, and went out the front door. He told Randy to wait a minute, and came back in the house.

Randy thought the guys responsible for harassing Old Man Dan would just come out and fight him. What was this about? Randy wasn't quite sure what to make of it - was he getting a gun? If so, Randy would be a sitting duck out there. So he turned away and rode across the street to the levee, where he had to dismount and pull his bike up the hill, over the levee, across the bike trail, and a little bit beyond to a shady area by the Snakepit, where he met up with Bandana and Bugeye, who were sitting under a tree.

To Be Concluded

Thursday, September 8, 2011

End of the Road


By and large, Alleghany, like any small town, was in the grip of Boredom. Memory kindly obscures that fact, and tends to preserve the exceptions to the rule, the unusual episodes like these:

Dan D, the head of a chaotic household in a somewhat dilapidated house on the high road into town, agreed to install an antenna in a tall fir tree to serve Casey's and its customers, the payment being in beverage form, empty cans of which rained down during the ascent, installation, and descent.

My most reliable corrupter, JimmieB, took over his father's workshop in midsummer, in their house next to Alleghany Supply in the name of manufacturing a soap box racer, with a microscopic share of my help. When, predictably, the contraption shortly exhausted our scant interest in its pathetically limited mobility, we fell back on the entertainment of using the magnifying glass he produced from his pocket on the roadside weeds, and prevented a forest fire only by dint of concerted beating of both our shirts. Amazingly, no one happened by during the minutes of frenzy.

Maudie, an elderly Casey's patron, left the premises on a particularly active Saturday night in midwinter, beginning, as she thought, the climb up the hill to her house. The hill turned out to be a snowbank across the street which had ramped itself up to the storage shed roof, off which she fell into the snowbank on the other side. Another patron noticed legs sprouting from the snowbank, and she was extricated without serious harm.

An Italian-American schoolmate (I'll name him Panelli for lack of the memory to produce his name accurately) managed against all likelihood to get his aged 50 cc Honda running, and I got the mouthwatering invitation to accompany him to the covered bridge and swimming hole at the Oregon Creek campground some twenty miles distant. About three miles out of town at the ranger station on the ridge road, the bike died, we both got off, and he, suspecting immediately that the problem was electrical, pulled out the fuse - and it was indeed gray and opaque with carbon. Once he finished tossing the fuse and cursing loudly for several minutes, he cut off a bit of wire from elsewhere and used it to bridge the fuse contacts - by this time I was already a believer in magic - and we were soon tooling down the road with nary a care, then in the water, then eating the candy bars I cadged from my father.

My grandmother, a blueblood New Englander with a Christian Scientist twist, saw the poster that the proprietor of Alleghany Supply, the playful Joe Sbaffi, put in the meat department - a life-sized photograph of a nude adult African selected specifically for genital impressiveness. That, for us, was an event.

These isolated events, and no doubt quite a few forgotten ones, tie the day-to-day endurance into a picture, a picture of a place inimitable, and though still inhabited, mostly gone.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part VI

(raccoon painting by Teo Alfonso;

(For Part I go here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here)

Loaves and Fishes was about a half mile away. It was a non-profit dedicated to helping the homeless. Old Man Dan still made it to Loaves and Fishes around 7:00. It was at this time that he and a couple hundred others would get morning coffee and, if they wanted, lunch tickets. Dan got his coffee and ticket and went to his usual gazebo with his usual coffee klatch mates, which included Bugeye, Double D and Randy Terrell, a 30-ish, well built man with a bad anger and booze problem. He lived under some trees not far from Dan behind the car dealership fence, and he considered Dan a friend. He grimaced as Dan's story unfolded and Randy's goatee and shaved head accentuated the anger that was building in his face. Dan told them that he had been threatened, shoved and kicked. But he didn't want anything done about it - Dan wasn't the vengeful type. Randy was fuming. Yeah, he had his problems, but there were two kinds of people he would always defend: the handicapped and the elderly. And he didn't like it one bit that two men had harassed his friend.

It was Randy's habit, depending on how much he had made that day from "canning" (i.e., collecting recycles for money), to buy several 40 oz bottles of Hurricane Beer, the fortified kind, the kind that was over 8% alcohol. Randy had a pretty deep drinking problem. And it didn't help that he occasionally added drugs to the mix. After leaving Dan and the others, he got on his bike and made the usual rounds looking for cans. This happened to be a very good day, and after a few hours, he'd made a decent day's wages. He bought his first Hurricane, went back to his camp, and continued stewing about what had happened to his friend. His tooth was killing him; he would have to get that dealt with, but for the time being he took a coupla vicodans for the pain. Around noon, he decided to check out the house where Dan had been attacked. He rode his bike over to the end of Basler Street and began riding in circles in front of Danny's house, mumbling curses and profanity.

Danny was in the kitchen and when he looked out the window and saw the young man circling in front of his house, his first response was one of terror - was that Tommy Duke again? It sure looked like him! He called out to Mark, who came into the kitchen just as Randy rode away. Mark just caught a glimpse of him, but also thought it was probably Tommy. This was not good. This was getting to a point where something would have to be done. When Jay returned, they would tell him that they thought Tommy was back and looking for more trouble.

A few hours later, Randy bought his second Hurricane and again finished it at his camp. This time, he pulled out his glass pipe and added a little meth to the mix. There was no way those two guys were going to get away with hurting his friend. Who did they think they were? His anger was reaching a boiling point and he decided to do something about the two men who had attacked his friend. Around 5:30, another homeless man named Bandana came by with a few Natty Lights, and Randy talked about what he was going to do. It just wasn't right what happened to Dan, and Randy was going to let his fists take care of the matter.

To Be Continued

Thursday, August 25, 2011

End of the Road


But when summer was complete, half of each weekday of those under eighteen was in the hands of the four guardians of the institution of Alleghany school: Mrs. Hogan handled grades one through six; the principal Mr. Edmiston, a newcomer, handled math, science, and mechanical drawing (for which I turned out to be a bit less than inept); Miss Finney, another newcomer, handled English, Spanish, and typing; and arguably the most colorful of the staff, Mr. Biedermann, handled history and geography.

Mr. Biedermann lived on the high road a short walk from both the bell and the school, in a house perched on the hillside below the road, above which was a rare enclosed garage containing sometimes his IH Travelall, and always a pool table, whose use he offered to the high-school-aged on dance nights. He was the teacher known for having groups of students as guests at his house, making sure they knew that he was a Kentucky Colonel and offering a running commentary on politics and various historical characters. He was a bald, thin, amiable man of indeterminate middle age, with a resonant voice which helped enforce credibility.

My first driving experience, at thirteen, was on one of his field trips to Bullard's Bar Reservoir, a decidedly unpreposessing piece of civil engineering out a long dirt road. The dirt road, however, was well-graded and relatively broad, offering easy driving at modest speeds in the intrepid Travelall, so he offered the wheel to any who were interested enroute, and I took a turn for a few miles; I remember actually once moving the "three on the tree" to third gear, be still my heart.

The school was located about a two block walk from Casey's, with the town firebell midway between at the intersection of the low and high roads into town. The classrooms were in a building torn between one and two stories on a moderate slope, with a swing set between it and the gym constituting the playground. On the low side of the building was a volcanic rock upon which clusters of students might occasionally be found. Mr. Biedermann's distinction was echoed in the placement of his classroom, isolated on the low side of the building next to the rock. The main entrance in the story above took you past lockers and the lower grades, then the science room (at right, students looking out of the science room at a passerby), then the English/typing room/library.

Baseball had its season, and was played in a graded dirt lot a quarter mile away, at the low end of town, next to a substation and storage area for road clearing equipment and Alleghany's fire engine. A home run was roughly defined as the ball entering a weedy area where the grader didn't go. Given the logistics, we never had a visting team, nor did we elect to join a district competition.

On one day our P.E. was a walk to the ranger station at the beginning of the Pliocene Ridge Road, three miles one way on a winding, heavily-forested stretch of road carrying a handful of cars a day. Everyone cursed the long legs of Tommy Hogan, distinguished by being the grade-school teacher's son, the lone graduate-to-be, and the sole person capable of dunking a basketball in the gym, as we walked up and down the hills, gossiped, and engaged in backwoods badinage.

And in the matter of basketball: in this category, Alleghany's team did compete across districts, perhaps less because we had talent (mostly not), but likely because we had a gym with a distinct competitive advantage. The court length was significantly shorter, and goals were mounted shallowly on the ends of the gym, and the out-of-bounds line was inches from the back and front walls, so that the uninitiated player preparing for a shot a given number of steps past half court would find himself shooting at a more distant target. That advantage turned inside out when visiting, as we did in midwinter, a regulation court near Sacramento.

The only socks I could find before the game were red, so no doubt the opposing team thought I was Alleghany's star player, full of attitude - and they found out in two plays that both attitude and competency were absent. The reality became crystal clear to them; our team drafted any males of high school age to simply have five players and a sub or two. And all of us tired quickly running up and down the longer court, and tended to find ourselves shooting from behind the backboard - with predictable results.
(to be continued.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part V

(For Part I go here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here.)

On April 29, the two police assigned to watch over the homeless in the area, were instructed to perform another periodic sweep. All the homeless were told they had to gather their belongings and vacate the area by the next day. And they all would. And they all would return the day after that, back to whatever 'homes" they had left. And the Rangers knew they would return, and the homeless knew they knew, and that's the way it was. Years of the same drill had taught all parties their roles, and everybody usually played their role to perfection.

Danny's backyard property stopped at a small navigation ditch, beyond which was the back of a large car dealership. His wooden backyard fence bordered the ditch, and just beyond the ditch was another chain link fence that ran along the back of the dealership. Along this fence were several clumps of bushes and trees, and each of them was called home by one or two homeless people. Early the next morning, on April 30, Old Man Dan, a 60-ish white homeless man, was vacating the mulberry bush he'd called home for several years. It was behind the dealership and fairly close to Danny's house. He was used to the "gather your stuff and leave" routine, and was following the orders as he had been instructed. He had quite a few belongings; he grabbed many of them and walked down the fence along the back of the car dealership to Basler Street. He turned right and placed his stuff in front of a gate at the last house on the street he went back to the bush to retrieve his bicycle and a couple of other things.

Halford came out the front door and was about to open the gate to get into his car and leave for his morning coffee. Unfortunately, Old Man Dan's gear was in the way. Halford was infuriated and went in the house to tell Danny and Mark.

Old Man Dan returned with his bike just as Halford and Mark were coming out the front door Seeing Dan, Halford approached him and yelled, "Get this damn crap out of the way or you're going to regret it!" Dan looked at him and said he'd get the stuff out of there, but Halford kept yelling at him as he shoved and kicked him. Mark told Halford to stand back, which he finally did. Dan, shaken, gathered his stuff and left. Halford opened the gate, got in his car, and left for his coffee.

To Be Continued

Saturday, August 13, 2011

End of the Road


The floor space wasn't the only echo of a bygone era for Casey's Place, the first hint of commerce for those driving into town from the Pliocene Ridge Road. Its weathered sign suggested a twenties roadhouse; it had a rolling boardwalk running the length of the building enclosing it as well as the neighboring building; and said neighboring building had a human fixture on a bench, a sixty-something toothless mine pensioner named Claude who chewed and hocked disgustingly into a rusty Hills Brothers can all day, spoke like Dr. John sang, wore a tattered wife-beater and stained khakis, and was almost immediately dubbed Claude Balls by my family for his persistent itch.

Although the logistics of Claude's building remained a mystery for the two years of our residence, those of our building quickly became familiar. To the left of the bar was a slightly smaller room with a refrigerator and a coin-op pool table whose pockets tended to be cloth-stuffed afterhours, as well as a long-abandoned fountain counter and fixtures. To the left of that, a drafty bedroom where my father slept. Behind it, an equally drafty bedroom occupied by my brother when he was on leave, and by me when he wasn't. Sandwiched between that bedroom and the back half of the bar was our fairly cramped kitchen, with a fairly antique stove, and weathered institutional sink, basic built-in glass-fronted cabinets and drawers, and one of the ubiquitous tubular steel-legged, bowling-ball-pattern top tables of the era, the pattern here and there worn off from hard use. The landlocked kitchen was the access point to the claustrophobic stairways down to the basement and up to the attic. Behind the kitchen, an apparent afterthought projecting out from the rear and supported by pilings, was a service/sun porch through which you'd walk to get to the non-bar bathroom; the porch and bathroom sloped down and away from the rest of the building at perhaps a three degree angle, a fright for the vertiginous, and a standing joke for the residents.

For much of the time, my sister, mother and I slept in a pair of slant-roofed rooms in the attic on the bar side, a relative luxury in winter given some heat migration from the bar below to help the space heater's paltry output. A wall divided that space from a traditional cobwebbed attic with typically enchanting leftovers, a nineteenth century cash register, a moldy trunk, some fixtures. (The dirt-floored basement had even more exotica, a 78-rpm jukebox being the crown jewel of the castoffs.) But to sleep consistently on a Friday or Saturday night, it was necessary to relegate the sounds of revelry below to the same kind of status the hourly train rumble was given by those whose apartments adjoined the tracks in a city. I was only partially successful at this strategy; I still know most of the lyrics of Bobby Bare's "Detroit City", Johnny Cash's "Five Feet High and Rising", Ray Charles's "Born to Lose", and dozens of other favorites of the regulars that provided us little joy.

Some mornings before the bar opened, before my father was involved with the morning news and a drink, I would go into the bar to investigate it. It had a game that was like a blend of a bar-style shuffleboard and a pinball machine that my father would occasionally turn on coin-disabled for us, a fairly obvious attraction for a 13-year-old. But it also had some quite skilled caricatures of the local color rendered in watercolor, including a phlegmatic miner named Snuffy coming home from work, an Irish-American man and his wife of Italian heritage in Casey's, both of mercurial temper, she twirling a cat by the tail overhead, he hiding under a stool, depicting accurately a real event not long before our arrival according to most. And I'd look to see if anything of interest got added to the jukebox, "Peppermint Twist" being a case of a single not subject to too much wear. And, of course, there was the occasional coin, and I had developed scavenger's instincts in the years before, never failing to check the coin return on every handy pay phone.

But mostly, especially if school was not in session, entertainment was somewhat hard to come by for a non-adult. Some caught hellgramites for bait and fished in nearby Kanaka Creek, though the swimming was just fair. Some made ill-advised explorations of abandoned mines as I did a couple of times. You could shoot BB guns at the abandoned cars at the edge of town. You could see what comic books had arrived at the store, even if you didn't have the requisite money to buy.  Or (at left) there was a minimal hoop available in front of Casey's which at least had the advantage of few automotive interruptions. But reading Ian Fleming and sci-fi was as likely to occupy most of my summer days as anything.

(to be continued)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part IV

"Upon arriving home, Justin found his window screen had been pried out, and there were bloody [raccoon] paw prints on the window sill. After a short investigation, he also found paw scratches on a jar of kitty treats and a bag of treats on the roof. But nothing compared to what was in the bathroom, where he found his six-month old cat blood spattered and dead, with his intestines ripped out of his stomach. Heart-breakingly, the bathtub was where his cat ran when he was scared." Nigel Chiwaya, The Funky Apple

In February, Danny was contacted by a friend of his in Los Angeles, Jay Halford. Jay was a playwright and was working on a piece that needed some music. Eventually, they decided that the following month, Jay would come up and spend some time at the house; he would continue his writing and Danny would help compose some music for the production. He moved into the house in late March for what was to be a five or six week stay. He bunked in the studio, the only place with any room for a sleeping bag and cot. Jay was a tall, 65 year old man, a little crazy looking as his eyes were not quite aligned, thin but still pretty healthy. He hit it off well with Mark. He had little patience for the homeless in the area, but contact was rare. He settled into a comfortable routine: up at 6:00, out the back door around 6:30 to his car, which was parked in the backyard: open the gate and off to a coffee shop for some caffeine and writing until around noon, then back to Danny's for lunch and some work in the studio trying to fit the music with his words. He was warned about Tommy Duke and saw him a couple of times, but didn't have much contact until April 25.

Tommy was extra frustrated that day. His musical aspirations weren't working out well and he partially blamed Danny, who refused to help him. So he figured he'd pay Danny another visit, maybe talk to him, maybe use a little "persuasion" to convince him to give him some lessons. But this time he wasn't going to let Danny stop him at the front door, plus he didn't want Danny's new caregiver in the picture. So he decided to break thru the backyard fence and come in the back door, maybe surprise Danny, and then talk some sense into him.

It was the afternoon; Danny and Jay had finished their work for the day. Danny was back in the house, in the kitchen, and Jay was taking a nap in the studio. Mark was out, running errands. Tommy found a loose piece of the wooden fence and pushed himself thru. He walked up to the backdoor which was unlocked. He came in and went into the kitchen, where Danny was sitting at the table. Danny had heard someone enter, but thought it was Jay, and when he saw it was Danny, he panicked. Tommy started talking to him, telling him he needed to get some lessons and Danny was the only one who could help him. Danny quickly picked up his cell phone and called Jay in the studio. Tommy came up to Danny and knocked the cell phone out of his hand, his voice getting louder, his manner more forceful. Almost immediately, Jay came into the room, grabbed a large kitchen knife, and pinned Tommy to the wall. He brought the knife right under Tommy's left eye and told him, "The only reason you're leaving here with this eye is because of your daughter." He then escorted Tommy out the front door and off the property.

Mark returned shortly thereafter. Danny was distraught and the mood in the house was anxious and tense. Danny had called 911, but they told him they couldn't do anything unless the perpetrator was actually on the premises. Mark and Jay finally calmed Danny down, but the incident was an indelible reinforcement of the notion that Tommy Duke just wasn't going away.

To Be Continued

Thursday, July 28, 2011

End of the Road

"This place ain't dead yet, but it's got about half a foot in the grave," said Bob Frees, 61, of Moundsville, W.Va., which now has a population of just over 9,000. "The big-money jobs are all gone. We used to have the big mills and the rolling plants and stuff like that, and you could walk out of high school when you were 16 or 17 and get a $15-an-hour job."

Rural US Disappearing? Population Share Hits Low, by Hope Yen (AP), 7/28/11

In the Spring of 1963, my father, having apparently exhausted limited opportunities in the foothill town of Sonora, Ca., migrated to the substantially smaller hamlet of Alleghany, Ca., pop. 150, elev. 4400 ft. 

James Kimball put about as much distance between him and his home state as the lower 48 would allow, but he clung to his Boston accent tenaciously; "pawf-the-coss" is what he might have said about the done thing he had rejected - par for the course - and an observer might have said the same of his migrations and career path. In a decade, he ran a small insurance business and a desultory gentleman farm in suburban Sacramento, sold cars in Sonora while moonlighting with an equally desultory attempt at a TV repair sideline, then tended bar in one of the watering holes on the main drag. The placement that came his way in Alleghany was the management of one of its two bars, Casey's Place, and the occasion was the retirement of the owner, Harold Casey, a former welterweight boxer. 

The town of Alleghany, well-embedded in the Tahoe National Forest, at the end of the paved road you would at that time only take to get there - unless "Jeeping" was your purpose - was well into a deep decline since its heyday early in the century. It was ringed with the gold mines that were the engine of that heyday, and when all the stamp mills operated in the twenties, it's fair to assume that the noise in the middle of town would be impressive. My father landed a 99-year lease on one of them, the Morning Glory, which was more or less fallow by that point, and in the years before 1963, the family made a few trips to stay at the cabin on the site, initially just corrugated metal on a minimal frame with an outhouse down a path. The road to the Morning Glory, a deeply rutted dirt road not for the faint of heart, passed on its way the mine that always dominated the area, the Sixteen to One, which still operates.

Even though only a couple of mines operated, there was still a point to the institutions that represented the town's social infrastructure: two bars, Casey's and the Golden Eagle Inn (lodgers possible though not likely); a general store, Alleghany Supply, with a post office and single-pump gas station; a library; and a twelve-grade school complete with a non-standard-sized gym. And further, there was even a point to the difference in the two bars, for even as the Golden Eagle was a cramped and narrow place, it had more of the snuggery feel, whereas Casey's was cavernous, the bar lining two walls, with a Rock-Ola occupying one opposing corner and a television the other, leaving abundant room for dancing or fighting.

(to be continued)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River Part III

“My day starts like two Mondays previous. A man walks into the office and wants to kill himself...Kevin was awakened by the garbage truck collecting the contents of the cardboard recycling bin in which he’d spent the night. He popped out to the shock of the garbage man before he made the news. He didn’t make the news a few days earlier when he tried to kill himself by lying down in holiday traffic. Minneapolis Police brought him to [the Med Center]; General Assistance Medical Care bought him a night of housing and healthcare - but he returned to homelessness the next day…fighting raccoons in the woods for his belongings the next night. He knows he can’t be groggy and defend himself…so forget the medicine for his mental health… Leviticus states you don’t put a stumbling block in front of the blind or insult the deaf. I’d like to add a third. You don’t ask a suffering homeless man to fight off raccoons and manage his health care from a sleeping bag alone in the woods.”
Monica Nilsson, St. Stephens Human Services, “Fighting Raccoons While Sedated”

In the next few months, Tommy would return to Danny's on several occasions. Danny would be polite, but tell him that he was not going to give him music lessons, and to stay away. Though not violent, Tommy's responses were antagonistic. Fearing another attack, Danny contacted Ghost, a friend of his in the Hell's Angels. Ghost had a talk with Tommy - no rough stuff, but the threat of rough stuff if Tommy kept harassing Danny.

Tommy persisted. It didn't help that he had a friend a few doors down from Danny, another musician who they both knew, so he was in the area a couple of times a week. Ghost never made good on his threat; Danny couldn't bring himself to actually be the cause of bodily harm to anyone, even after what Tommy had done. It would have violated his Protocol. But Danny remained fearful.

In September, Danny made a decision. He'd hire a "caregiver/protector". In addition to needing help regarding Tommy, Danny was diabetic and could use help with his meals and meds. He had recently been mentoring an acquaintance named Mark Hernandez, who he nicknamed Marky Mark. Hernandez was on general assistance and Danny had suggested enrolling in a program at a local city college where Hernandez could study and receive a certificate to get a job in water treatment. Hernandez took Danny's advice and now Danny offered him a job: for room and board, Hernandez would fix Danny's meals, make sure he took his med, and help protect him, especially, if necessary, from Tommy. He told Mark that Tommy shouldn't be a problem if he knew there was another person in the house. Hernandez accepted and immediately moved in with Danny. Of course, there was one thing Hernandez had to understand and always observe, and that was The Protocol: treat other people the way you want to be treated, even Tommy. After all, Tommy had a daughter, and no matter what he had done, it just wasn't right to hurt someone else, especially someone who was supposedly providing for his kids. And equally important: never, ever, harm or disparage the homeless. Thought Danny didn't have much actual contact with them, he knew there were quite a few who lived very near him and he often saw them; he was compassionate about them and didn't want to be responsible for any harm coming to them. Marky Mark understood, and said he'd follow the rules.

After Hernandez moved in, things seemed to settle down. Tommy was periodically seen in the neighborhood, but he rarely came around Danny's, and when he did, he was fairly quiet and not antagonistic. Hernandez made a bedroom out of Danny's front room; it was the only room not cluttered with music equipment and other items collected from 40 years of performing. He had enrolled in the water treatment program and was doing well in school. Marky Mark and Danny struck up quite a friendship and Hernandez did well as a caregiver. The new year rolled in and there was a feeling of optimism in the house.

To Be Continued

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Social Tug of War

"The plan being drafted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would lock in roughly $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years — a figure considerably smaller than Republican leaders or President Obama had been seeking."
- Lisa Mascaro, Chicago Tribune, today

The current wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, which has as its subtext the relative willingness to think about where the big social programs like Medicare and Social Security fit in the budget picture, made me wonder about the Social Security timeline in the context of its fiscal crisis:

  • January 29, 1932 The first State unemployment insurance law was enacted in Wisconsin
  • 1932 The American Federation of Labor endorsed social insurance.
  • May 18, 1933 The first significant use of the term "Social Security" came about when the American Association for Old-age Security became the American Association for Social Security.
  • June 29, 1934 The President created the Committee on Economic Security to study the problems relating to economic security and to make recommendations for a program of legislation. (This was Executive Order No. 6757.)
  • March 1, 1935 Congressman Frank Buck (Calif.) made the motion to change the name of the Economic Security Bill to the Social Security Bill. The motion was carried by a voice vote from the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • April 4, 1935 The Social Security Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives with a report. This bill (H.R. 7260) replaced the Economic Security Bill.
  • April 19, 1935 The Social Security Bill (H.R. 7260) was passed by the House of Representatives, 372 to 33 (25 not voting). Against were 13 Democrats, 18 Republicans and 2 Farm Labor.
  • May 13, 1935 The Social Security Bill (H.R. 7260) was reported out by the Senate Finance Committee with amendments, by a vote of 7 to 6. (Against, were 5 Republicans, 1 Democrat and there were 12 who did not vote.)
  • June 19, 1935 The Social Security Bill was passed in the Senate by a vote of 77 Yes, 6 No, and 12 Not Voting. 
  • August 17, 1936 An unemployed worker--Neils B. Ruud--in Madison, Wisconsin, received the first unemployment benefit check paid under a State law. The mount was $ chronology

So in four years we enacted a federal social welfare state, from the first local implementation to the first payout. The size of the act was not missed, despite the relative efficiency of its passage:

"One of FDR’s newspaper friends called the act 'a monumental achievement,' even as he 
complained that the benefit amounts were 'miserably inadequate.'”

And it appears there was a strategy in place to deal with a fractious Congress:

"In the end, we will see that FDR went around Congress, which was too unpredictable and 
whose review process might have foiled him." 

- (both quotes) The Revolution of 1935: The Secret History of Social Security 
By Gregory Bresiger

Contrast this timeline in the avoidance of what appears to be a profound economic risk, the defaulting on national debt:

  • 6/19 - "The closer America gets to Aug. 2 without resolving its debt deadlock, the more that bankers, investors, money managers, foreign governments and others will begin to think about the unthinkable." - The Kansas City Star
  • 7/6 - "Boehner said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “His administration has been burying our kids and grandkids in new debt and offered no plan to rein in spending. " - Felicia Sonmez, Roz Helderman and Lori Montgomery,Washington Post, Published: July 6
  • Today - "In a marked shift, Republicans are now willing to close some tax loopholes as part of a final deal to raise the nation’s legal borrowing limit, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday." -Lisa Mascaro, Chicago Tribune

As I consider all this, I wonder yet again about the business of social welfare structures. Republicans more than ever, in the classic American individualist tradition, ideologically oppose such things, though they recognize dealing with them is consistently political suicide; Democrats remain believers, but don't have a plan for how to deal with the imbalance in funding, simply refuse to consider adjustments like later coverage or lower rates.

Is there a point to imposing a survival structure on those who are most ill, or unwise, or unlucky? And I think in considering that question, it would make sense to leave aside for a moment the question of the morality of it, and focus solely on whether it is financially prudent, or even more efficient than the alternative. Considering, for instance, the "Hoovervilles" that dotted the Depression landscape of the America of the thirties - would things have worked better without these camps? It does seem like much of the point of what this debt default avoidance is involved with is social programs, or at least they gobble the majority of the money - on these terms, is it money well-spent?

This can seem like the the market proposition of any insurance writ large. People spend a certain amount of money on premiums to avoid having to spend all of the money to replace their house or their car, or get bankrupted by a health crisis. It appears that more people are willing to see to those insurance considerations than are willing to, effectively, arrange for insurance against running out of money in their dotage. There are wrinkles, to be sure:

"[Social Security] created the institution of mass retirement. Social Security, along with other 
modern welfare state programs, encouraged the concept of golden years in which individuals would stop working. "
(- Bresiger, above)

And of course the rapid migration of defined benefit pensions to 401K plans required that people figure out how the investment options worked - and most people were somewhat ill-equipped, it seems, given the profile of losses after 2000. And the result of that relative ineptitude was, among other things, to leave a lot of abandoned homes on the market, a lot of seriously ill people in hospitals and hospices, and a lot more people, well, in something like "Hoovervilles". That, however, is with Social Security and Medicare, which could not prevent these trends from occurring.

Some Republicans would angle for something like the block grants that led up to the formation of the SSA, ideologically in line with the States' Rights philosophy. And you would have to wonder how Mississippi and Oregon, for instance, might contrast a few years down that road. And you have to wonder how much the populace is likely to learn about foreseeing risks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Protocol: A Death Down by the River, Part II

"When I was in elementary school I found a book in the library...about a boy and his pet raccoon, but it was also about the troubles that accompany childhood. I immediately related to the book and its protagonist. I was always looking for animals out in the woods and the cornfields of my hometown...and the book led to an intense interest on my part in raccoons...My cousins...kept one as a pet. The first time I saw their raccoon it was hiding behind the couch. And raccoons were always around my house...[P]art of me is guilty of the same desire to capture and own something wild and strange from the forest. I won't own a raccoon so I collect...photographs instead, as a way to connect to the animal that most reminds me of my childhood."
--Photographer/Musician Scott Daniel Ellison

Danny couldn't be sure why, but Tommy was becoming enraged. He'd been drinking beer and some whiskey throughout the drum lesson, which was more of a jam session than a structured tutorial. There were several instruments in addition to the drum set - an electric bass, a Roland keyboard, and Danny's favorite, a 1964 Guild acoustic guitar, a rare and valuable beauty that he played constantly.

The situation reached a breaking point, at least in Tommy's mind. He began yelling incoherently and then grabbed the Guild, swinging it multiple times at Danny, pummeling his head and upper torso. The force of the blows was causing the guitar to crack, but as Danny cried out, Tommy turned his attention to the drum kit, which he began to demolish with what was left of the guitar.

Across the street was the warehouse/art studio and home of Paul Ganne, a 65 year old artist who mainly worked with metal sculpture. Ganne was a bright, stocky, passionate man, a neighbor and friend of Danny's. Separating his warehouse and home was a walkway that had a gate on the street side. Danny's house and the warehouse across the street were the last buildings on Basler - beyond them was a dirt area and path that led up to the levee, beyond that was the bike trail, and beyond that was the river. Scattered throughout the area were quite a few homeless persons - they lived and camped where they could amidst the bushes, trees, and ravines.

Ganne would often peer thru the gate between his properties - he was pretty fed up with what he considered the fairly constant presence of homeless people trespassing, defecating and selling sex on and/or too near his property. On this particular afternoon, he heard a commotion across the street, and decided to check up on his friend. He crossed the street and walked thru the now unlocked chain link fence and up to Danny's front door. By the noise inside, he knew there was trouble, so he called out Danny's name and entered the house.

When Tommy saw him, he stopped his rampage. This wasn't a frail peacenik who entered the kitchen. Though twice Tommy's age, Ganne was well built and knew how to handle himself, a confidence that no one who saw him could doubt. Ganne spoke to Danny, asking how he was and trying to decide what needed to be done. As was his nature, Danny, thought upset, instructed Ganne not to harm Tommy - that would violate Danny's Protocol. So Ganne began talking to Tommy - calming him - slowly, but effectively. Forty-five minutes later, Tommy walked out the front door, got on his bicycle in the front yard, and rode away.

To Be Continued

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Melody of Mars

"By 2006, [as a side effect of the No Child Left Behind Act], 71 percent of school districts had narrowed their elementary-school curricula in order to make up the [core subjects gap]... between 1999 and 2004, the number of students enrolled in music courses fell by nearly half..."

- Alex Ross, "Learning the Score", anthologized in Listen to This.

"Music educators have continually observed the existence of male and 
female stereotypes ...  Vocal music, in particular, is often deemed a female instrument...  The 
fear of being feminized by peers often outweighs the joy of singing.  Researchers agree that older 
boys who choose to join choir are taking a risk with their symbolic masculinity."

- Jennifer M. Boss, Concordia University Portland, "Effects of Older Male Role Models on the Participation in Music Class
Of Male Students in Kindergarten, First and Second Grades "

It's no news flash that popular music has the imprint of black Americans from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson and beyond. Although many of the students in my high school were unaware that Elvis liked Willie Mae Thornton and the Beatles were fans of Blind Lemon Jefferson, they had a strong grasp of the styles, so the blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix seemed a natural progression from those starting places. And those who sang in plays or choruses always had in mind the cool factor associated with sounding like Jack Bruce or John Lennon.

What happened in the intervening years moved inexorably away from melody on the male side of the Top Ten. "Wild Thing", the atmospheric talk-rock summer hit of 1966, was a specialty tune, as were even Dylan's talking blues hits like "Rainy Day Women" with their non-sung choruses. More normal were hummable melodies, typically harmonized, from We Five, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies, and The Byrds. In 2001, Nick Hornby wrote in the New Yorker about his experience listening to the Billboard Top 10:

"The Alicia Keys disk really isn't bad, however, and is certainly the only album in the Top Ten that I might contemplate playing again one day in the not too distant future, when the memory of this whole Billboard experience is a little less . . . vivid. ..Anyone who has lived through Deep Purple, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Cramps, Grandmaster Flash, and Nirvana could be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing out there with the potential to alienate in the way that our music antagonized our parents... Despite all this, an hour in the company of P. Diddy (formerly Puff Daddy, or Puffy, or Sean Combs) is a dismal, sordid experience." 

- and one involving no melody. The current list perhaps make a few inroads: Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" involves melody and harmony, at least in the choruses; "E.T." by Katy Perry has the 90's-classic pattern of guy-raps (Kanye West), girl-sings, in this case very predictably; Lupe Fiasco's "The Show Goes On" repeats the "Give Me Everything" pattern; Bruno Mars changes the pattern by keeping with melody the whole time in "The Lazy Song" - with even whistling. The rest of the list is pretty much female. The main element missing from ten years ago is the Metallica-style angry metal shout, where melody is only suggested.

Could it be there is an element of homophobia in this trend too? Is it possible that an environment of a calm "Dude, just don't hit on me, ok?" vs. the "OMG, I know a pervert!" rejection could take the negative charge off singing? We can perhaps look to New York for a heartening trend.