Wednesday, February 23, 2011

different stuff, same bucket?

> Two (at least) interesting developments in the rollout of Obama 2012: the Justice Dept will stop defending DOMA against constitutional challenges (yay, gay people, and lesbian people, and straight people, and bi-people, and trans- and cis-gendered persons of all kinds!), AND is distancing itself from defending the individuals (as opposed to the government) responsible for denying Jose Padilla his rights as a citizen and a person. I'm talking about Rumsfeld, John Yoo, others of that ilk. Firedoglake. If I love Firedoglake that much, I should just go and marry it, and maybe someday I will.
> One of the things that people get wrong about Rumsfeld is that his distinctive patterns of speech produce nonsense. They are actually rigorously logical. The famous "known unknowns" quotation is an accurate and sober elaboration of 19th-century military strategist Helmut von Moltke's dictum, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." What offends me in Rumsfeld's speech is that it is weaponized against his domestic critics, his fellow Americans, either to display an unmatchable complexity of mind ("the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence") or belittle our tiny concerns ("Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war").
They also remind me of the lists of possibilities and their impossibility that Samuel Beckett compiled, esp in his early fictions. No reference on hand, but I'm sure I first saw them singled out by Hugh Kenner.
> It is always a good thing to read anything by Hugh Kenner. Here's a randomly chosen appreciation of his work.
> Oh yeah, I was writing about Ohbama. I imagine his moves away from DOMA and torture (slightly) are intended to make voting for him in 2012 more palatable to much of his former base. And on nothing else.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

same stuff, different bucket

Russia blames Google for stirring Egypt unrest: report
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's deputy blamed Google Inc in an interview published on Tuesday for stirring up trouble in the revolution that ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
"Look what they have done in Egypt, those highly-placed managers of Google, what manipulations of the energy of the people took place there," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told the Wall Street Journal.
For "highly placed managers," read "learned elders."
Via DailyKos, which often has good stuff but ranks lower than Firedoglake and TPM in my esteem because of their incomprehensible, gleeful support of the individual mandate.
Putin&Co. are no doubt preparing lest Russia get as interesting as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain.... Looking way down the road, Tienanmen scenario? No, I think, because the military is hardly better off than it was before perestroika. Hama? Definite possibility with Putin in charge. But that is way down a road not yet paved - one gets the impression the wealthy are happy and entrenched, and the masses are too dispirited to make a real move.


So why am I going on and on about Egypt, Libya, etc. and playing armchair general?
Because I am fascinated by what it takes to move the donkey-wheel of power. What force and what leverage succeed? How do a people turn around a hostile government? What does it take? Is non-violence enough against a state that will kill? How much can a state, perhaps the one we live in, get away with? What the hell do I do about living in a torture-reliant state? Make no mistake about it, under Bush/Obama doctrine, an American citizen can be seized, subjected to torture, all civil rights denied, without even being prosecuted, and with all prospects for redress denied. If you think you're any better in the eyes of the law than your kindred American citizen, you're kidding yourself.


Before Mubarak's exit, stage right, I was discussing the Tahrar Square situation with a friend. I was certain that the only way the tide could be turned would be the Tienanmen Square option, murder all the folks protesting and scare the hell out of everybody else.
The people who run China, then and now, have the advantage of a standing army as big as a country. There are more soldiers in the PLA's permanent military than there are men, women and children in Latvia or Botswana. If you add in all military and paramilitary units, that comes to 7.5 million troops, one million more than there are people in Libya. Add reserves and civilian guards and you're up to 45 million at least, more than the population of Poland or Argentina, about the size of the nation of Colombia.
My point would be that in China the rulers had the advantage of being able to call on a country within a country, with its own hierarchy, mores, culture and governing laws. And all the weapons (approximately). That's a hell of a thing. The Tienanmen brutalist paradigm could not be easily replicated in Egypt, though it wasn't until after the government was deposed that I saw the factor that might have made it impossible.
The Egyptian military did not have a virtual country separate from the land they lived in. They were too much part of the population not to have it manifest that they would be turning their guns on their nieces and cousins, or childhood friends.
I've also seen the point made that the Egyptian military is a major owner and investor in the economy. They couldn't treat the population in revolt as if they were a colonized people, because they would have been razing their own fields.
What now are the possibilities in Libya? The army is mainly underweaponed and untrusted by the rulers, except for elite battalions dedicated to one Qaddafi or another. The elite battalions could commit a massacre (more sustained and localized than the mere killings they've committed so far), but I don't think that they have the resources and numbers relative to the population to impose a new normal and an absence of memory as the masters of the PLA could.
It scares me that Qaddafi certainly remembers as do I the total destruction of the city of Hama, Syria, by Hafez Al-Assad in 1982. The city was bombed flat and bulldozed to eradicate a revolt. A salutary action from the dictator's point of view.
We may be at the cusp of this occurring in Libya or not. There are likely reliable reports leaking out of attacks from the air, and of the defection of two jet pilots who flew to Malta rather than obey orders to bomb civilians. I'm sure somebody who knows Libya better than I do could still pick out an exemplary city Qaddafi could destroy to break the back of the revolt. I don't think it would work - not a sufficient separate military force to tame the nation. Mercenaries have been brought in from other countries, which must be galling elite and non-elite soldiers. A peace imposed by mercenaries and elite officers is a recipe for coup d'etat possibly even more threatening to Q than the general revolt.
A Tienanmen is not possible in Libya, I wager. The singular quality of Tienanmen is not only the end of the rebellion but the extirpation of rebellion and suppression from memory. We may yet see a Hama-style massacre in Libya. It might quell the immediate revolt, but I would bet we've seen the end of the Qaddafi era. Simply not enough resources for this country to make war on itself.
Stats are rough and courtesy of and Wikipedia.


Again, Firedoglake.
In a meeting Sunday at the presidential palace in Kabul to investigate reports of multiple civilian deaths in a US operation in Konar province, General David Petraeus deeply offended those present when he suggested that Afghan civilians had deliberately burned their children in an effort to blame US attacks for their injuries. Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, the top military spokesperson in Kabul, then provided a statement to the Washington Post suggesting that the burns were inflicted on the children as punishment....
...the injuries included “burns and shrapnel wounds”. Is Smith next going to claim that in addition to burning their children, the Afghans are exploding bombs next to them so that they have shrapnel wounds?
Washington Post originated the story. No coverage in the NY Times, as of this posting. Next biggest MSM covering is Newsday. Faux News is only reporting the denial of the allegations in the WP story. Good lord, it almost makes you wish there were photos like this coming out of Afghanistan.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The fact that I'm being kicked in the head by serotonin-seizing bullies doesn't mean that I'm not fascinated by what's going on in the Middle East.
As usual, Firedoglake has the best round-up. The headline is about Bahrain, but the post goes on to cover Libya, Jordan and Yemen. And Iraq.
Who knew that the people were so miserable in Bahrain? This ignorant Americano thought that it was one of the oil countries' wealthy happy places.
Who (amongst the Americanos) could have imagined that there would be a popular non-violent uprising in Libya? I would have thought that The Colonel kept the grip too tight for such a being to breathe.
And Iraq. A Million-Orphan March on Baghdad. This is going way out on the theoretical limb, but what a thing it would have been had it happened under Saddam, rather than Bush&Obama (my stomach still turns at the thought of joining them with a slash rather than an ampersand). 

Friday, February 11, 2011

hums of a bore

A couple of posts ago I went on at some length about a couplet from the Jim Morrison/Doors song "Break on Through." Here are the other two lyrics that pop into mind when I think about pop faves.

Don't start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind is sleepwalking...

That's by Elvis Costello, from "Oliver's Army." I don't think I want to write any additional words about it. Some of the mystery has faded from "Break on Through" since I wrote about it.
The other is "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and The Drells - a tightened up version appears below:

Hi everybody  
I'm Archie Bell of the Drells 
From Houston, Texas 
In Houston we just started a new dance 
Called the Tighten Up
This is the music 
We tighten up with 
Let's tighten it up now
Let's tighten it up now
Tighten it up
Do the tighten up
Come and tighten it up
Tighten it up now
Come on now, Billy
Tighten it up 
Oh, yeah
Now look here 
Tighten it up now  
Now everybody tighten it up now
Tighten it up
Tighten it up now
Come on and tighten it up
Tighten it up now
You can do it....

The SINGER is in the SONG. The SONG is what the WORDS are. The WORDS are what the SONG is made of. The DANCE is what the WORDS in the SONG say. 

Now make it mellow.

Friday, February 4, 2011

something heartening, for once

In Egypt, "...we see once again what the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. described as the “powerful moral force” of nonviolence in achieving social and political change..." Article by Jim White at Firedoglake, with interesting comments following.

I was heartened that speeches in Tahrir Square expressed Muslim unity with Christians. I was a little less heartened when I reviewed the history of the Jews in Egypt. Basically, none left to include. But who knows, maybe, overall, it could happen, something good, Egypt a democracy, Israel maybe someday not a theocracy, maybe it's OK to find it all heartening for once, after all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

sienna, umber, ochre, beige

Speaking of excellent friends who write books, Bill Brown has been very busy of late.

He's collected his reviews of popular and locally produced music in the '80s, originally written for the Ann Arbor News and Michigan Voice, into one volume called You Should've Heard Just What I Seen. I did the proofreading for the book, correcting him on such fine points as there being no hyphen between "Electro" and "Boogie" in the title of the Jonzun Crew's "Electro Boogie Encounter."

The juxtaposition of reviews of acts national (Devo, Violent Femmes, Olu Dara) and not (The Electrifying Mojo, Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band) suits Brown's democratic dancehall politics, where the floor and the stage are at the same height. It also made me wish that I had experienced being a member of a smaller community than NYC in those days, someplace where the band and I really lived in the same place, not merely crossed the same streets.

Michael Jackman of Michigan's Metro News ran a good interview with Bill, very amusing.

Brown, a devotee of Guy Debord, for many years has been publishing thoughts and provocations concerning Situationism, politics, Letterists/Lettrists, etc., as well as, comment dit-on?, informal translations by many hands of otherwise unavailable or ill-treated articles by and about the Situationists and their ilk, at the website NOT BORED! He's collected these, too, in a big black book, NOT BORED! Anthology 1983-2010. You can read them all online, of course, but I prefer reading longer, more challenging stuff on paper. Bill's own prose is clear and direct; this tendency can make difficult, even deliberately difficult, writing easier for a simple American like myself to understand.

The NOT BORED! book completes Bill's project of putting his work of years between covers and moving on. It's reminded me of Bart Simpson avidly hawking his conscience to Lisa after selling his soul to Milhouse: "It's a Bart sales event! Everything about me must go!"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You know...

I had a conversation with my excellent friend Patricia Morrison last night, about the newest of her very smart mystery books, set in the '60s.

One of the underlying themes of the books (and the '60s) is the destruction of old aristocracy (wealth, industry) and the rise of a new (youth, charisma). This morning I wondered whether this was a topic also addressed in a collection of poems by her late husband, the lyricist, singer and poet Jim Morrison.

Not so much, as it turns out, since I was misremembering the title as The Lords and the New People, not the New Creatures. But it got me turning over in my head my favorite Morrison lyric, the first words sung by Morrison on track one of the Doors' first record:

You know
the day destroys the night
night divides the day

I enjoy a hearty portion of mute nostril agony as much as the next inheritor of the '60s, but nothing slays me like concision, concentration and the elevation of the vernacular.

It's a trope, trivial, a cliche you might dismiss - night yields to day as day to night. But there's more here to hear.

the day destroys the night

Right there! Destroys! Destroys? Overcomes, supersedes, reigns o'er, sure, heard that before, but destroys? The day obliterates, crushes, kills the night forever? The day destroys the night, as if its victory were vicious and permanent. Also kinda cool that it's the day, associated with life, action, positivity, committing this act of violence against the sinister, mysterious and frightening night. It's not a sunrise, the sky is on fire.

night divides the day

This is the kind of transition I love because it operates against rationality, sequence, and is better for that. And I would never think of it. The day destroys the night? I'd be likely to think that the night must in turn declare war on, rebel against, overthrow the day. That's would be my direct, sensible, logical extension.

Instead Morrison next puts the day and night in different relation (even the definite article differs), a continuity of days broken by nights. If that first line I see as an explosion, this second is a band of white broken by blacks - and the blacks, being mere separators, interruptions, would be smaller bands, stripes between the lengths of days.

But night divides the day. It's not a pause, a rest, a sleep. Whatever the continuity of days, the night breaks them. Repeatedly, inexorably, snipping them off like a Fate. The day forever, and forever broken by the night.

Between them, for me, if not for you, is the invisible lyric, the Zen stretch where dualism vanishes. You think it's one and another, you think this acts against that and that against this, but they do exist together. They are a continuum. The superiority of one over the other is illusory (there is no aristocracy to overthrow). They are only more time seeming to pass, seeming to change. And the one that's destroyed in the morning still exists to divide the day come night.

It's very close to a koan. Does the match eat the fire or does the fire eat the match?

It's not as if I think Jim (and I call him Jim because that's what I call him when I'm talking with Patricia, not because I think I have some special or vicarious relation to him) had this all intended when he wrote these lines in his notebook, most likely wacked out of his gourd on a summery California beach. But he kept these words, when I'm sure there were many opportunities to lose them. He kept them stoned and he kept them sober. He kept them together and had the sense that they would be lesser, alone or apart. This is called writing poetry. And because I don't like his rococo verse (and such big portions) I've generally only tentatively given him the title of poet in my own mind. But while writing this I've convinced myself or he's convinced me (is that the afterlife?), yes, he was a poet.

Yeah, there are actually three lines. That "y'know" is the difference between a lyricist/singer and a poet on paper. And dropping the definite article before "night" in the last line is the work of a lyricist, singer and poet acting as one.

> Patricia Morrison's four rock 'n' roll mysteries are available as books and ebooks from Lizard Queen Press. They and her previous books are also available from Amazon. Jim Morrison's books and songs can be found through many purveyors of fine media.