Archive for June, 2009

Bling Dynasty

Even when reading a cookbook, you can get a sense of why the Chinese had jesus-lambs-29gtheir revolution. You’ll learn that during the Qing Dynasty, for the rich folk a “light” meal consisted of over 40 courses, while dinner offered well over 100. This during a period when most of the citizenry subsisted on rice and a little soya. Rulers then were fond of dishes such as Jade Chicken, which required cooks to patiently peel mountains of grapes, or Bird’s Nest Soup, which necessitated employment of a stable of young girls “with perfect vision,” tasked with but one job: removing feathers and fluff from the nests of sea swallows.

But of course nowhere on the planet today are things quite so decadent and outre. Right?

Wrong. As Lance says in Apocalypse Now: “Jim, it’s here. It really is here.”

Here in the June 22 edition of the New Yorker, in a dotty little review of a Park Avenue tapas joint, La Fonda Del Sol:

Among the tapas . . . lamb dressed with hot peppers and roasted on a bed of grass from the field in which the lamb once grazed. The dinner version of this dish is stewed in yogurt made with the milk of the lamb’s mother.

I don’t think any more needs to be said.

Peasant Palate: Ennui A La Mode

I haven’t felt much like cooking for several months now. Fogged in ennui. It happens. Problem is, I’m the one who cooks in this house. So if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

When recently I cleaned out the car after a week’s worth of dreary commuting and discovered several discarded Burger King bags, I realized Something must be Done. images-20It may be true, as mi compenara once said, that Chicken Tenders are well nigh irresistible, even to a vegetarian, but you can’t live on them. Or shouldn’t, anyway. Not unless you’re acting out a death wish. Apparently I had been eating these things on a fairly regular basis without really thinking about it. Wrong.

So slowly I’ve been reacquainting myself with the stove. Preparing meals that, unlike industrial fast-food fare, are not cheerily intent on killing me. But also meals that don’t require a lot of time or energy. Cooking For The Weak, as it were.

On the jump I share seven recipes for those similarly enervated. Or for those who just like good food. 


Beat It

This is just great.

SNN3013BN-380_814922aThe autopsy surgeon had yet to apply the saw to the suddenly vacated corporeal container of Michael Jackson, and there were all the rats in his camp, squeaking and squealing, scrabbling all over each other in a frenzied attempt to alternately assign and escape “blame.” 

Out ahead of the pack Friday morning raced Brian Oxman, a “Jackson family attorney,” who scurried over to the UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson’s corpse had been belatedly transported on Thursday afternoon, after Jackson’s “live-in physician” and an unknown number of other panicked rodents skittered around his house for over an hour trying fruitlessly to revive him.

“I have warned,” keened Oxman, “that one day Michael Jackson would wake up dead, and that I would not be silent if that was the case, because of the misuse of medications.”

The newly outspoken Oxman disclosed that Jackson’s medication situation had seriously buggered Jackson’s rehearsals for an intended UK tour. Oxman hastened to add that “I do not know the extent of the medications that he was taking.”

Oxman next scampered onto the set of CNN’s American Morning, where he declared: “I talked to his family about it, I warned them—I said that Michael is overmedicating and that I did not want to see this kind of a case develop.”

Oxman has yet to explain why he did not publicly thump the tub about Jackson’s dire dope jones while the man was still alive.


Nasty Men

Early Monday morning, Ray Taliaferro of KGO-AM, dean of the left-coast lefty talk-show hosts (profiled briefly here), was prompted by recent events in Iran to launch into a four-star tirade against “nasty men” who, based on nothing more than “plumbing,” believe themselves serenely entitled to subjugate women.


Ray’s rant will be available in audio for the next two weeks here; a transcript of some of his remarks appears below.

Civil rights, civilian rights, mean an awful lot to me. And I’m troubled when I see that there are places in the world where they don’t practice individual rights. And I don’t know why not. Except generally it’s because we have a bunch of nasty men—and I mean this—nasty, backwards . . . and I could use a couple of swear words, because those are the only words that I could use to properly identify these people who like to call themselves ayatollahs, and supreme beings, and all this nonsense. When all they really are, are just like the rest of everybody else. They came out of a womb. They weren’t supreme when they came out of that womb. And if they happened to have had a vagina instead of a penis, why, they would be under subjugation as well. And not be able to practice their freedoms and liberties.

So it was just a matter of birth, for goodness sakes. It was a matter of plumbing. And that’s what just drives me up a wall.

There is no reason for women to be treated in an inequitable way by men, for pete’s sake. No reason. No reason for women not to have full and total equality with men. Everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. And if they’re not there yet, believe me, at some point they’ll get there.


Even The Governor Of South Carolina State Sometimes Must Have To Hike Naked

This cannot end well.

Last Thursday South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford left the Governor’s Mansion, climbed aboard a black Suburban SUV belonging to his security detail, and drove off, alone, without security personnel, or anyone else. images-19 In the days since, his family and staff have issued various conflicting stories as to his whereabouts, but it is not at all certain that any of them have actually spoken to him.

One of the stories spun by staff to cover Sanford’s mysterious disappearance emerged Monday, and had him hiking the Appalachian Trail. This tale blew up like an exploding cigar when it was discovered that Sunday on the Trail was “Naked Hiking Day.”


No Fear

The New York Times this week dispatched a reporter to Hawaii to determine whether the fear merchants of North Korea and the American right had succeeded in scarifying the islanders.

Seems a Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri, reported on June 17 that, according to an “analysis” by the Japanese Defense Ministry, “it is believed” North Korea “might” fire a long-range ballistic missile “toward” Hawaii, “maybe” around July 4.

The shadowy, assumption-riddled Yomiuri piece seems primarily geared towards instilling fear in the Japanese people, spinning scenarios of the missile landing near the Japanese island of Okinawa, or dumping a first-stage booster over the Chugoku or Shikoku regions of Japan. But it was the Hawaiian speculation that was immediately latched onto by US-oriented fear limpets—despite the fact that the article explicitly states that any missile must land at least 500 kilometers short of the main Hawaiian islands.

And so, people prone to flogging and/or feeling fear having been in a flap for nearly a week now, the Times set out to discover if the Hawaiians themselves were wringing their hands and running for shelter.



La Musica: Black Cadillac

Children can be a trial to their parents, but that’s fair, because parents can certainly be a trial to their children.

The hellion Johnny Cash, as an example, certainly could have been a better father. But then he also got his from his daughters. Step-daughter Carlene Carter, during a 1979 live appearance at a New York club, introduced her tune “Swap-Meat Rag,” a celebration of her orgy adventuring, with the memorable line: “If this song doesn’t put the cunt back in country, nothing will.”

Unbeknownst to her, Johnny and mom June Carter were in the audience. Cash told Carlene’s sister Candy: “Carlene looked right at me and said that.”

None of them ever really lived it down.

But we know that Johnny was at heart a good father, and at heart his daughters good daughters, because of what daughter Rosanne Cash made for him after he passed: “Black Cadillac.” A live video version of the song, recorded for the BBC, is below: the cameraperson is without a clue, but the song isn’t. Lyrics here.


Science Fiction

I guess I just don’t understand scientists.

Tuesday emerged a story from two UK universities reporting that scientists studying a fish called the nine-spined stickleback limpet had concluded that the creature “can compare the behaviour of other sticklebacks with their own experience and make a series of choices which can potentially lead to better food supplies.”

This diddling with the sticklebacks has apparently caused members of the scientific community to experience a huge organism, as they conclude it “could be the first in showing an animal exhibiting an important human social learning strategy.”

So my question is, do no scientists keep cats, or what? Have none of them ever fed wild birds?


Out Of Africa

Barack Obama has been quite the globe-trotter in his first few short months in office. He has journeyed several times to Europe, once to the Caribbean, touched down in Asia, and recently tip-toed through the minefield of the Middle East.

In July, Obama will make his first visit as president to sub-Saharan Africa. Over two days in Ghana, says press secretary Robert Gibbs, Obama will “highlight[] the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development.”


I’m not sure I’m comfortable with Gibbs’ choice of words. To these ears they echo eerily an address on Africa delivered by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, in February of 2008, wherein The Decider outlined his vision of an Africa captive to the interests of international capital. Which itself echoed words inscribed by the exiled Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his 2006 novel Wizard Of The Crow.


Ce Pauvre Mort

While the governments and the ruling classes of Europe and the United States were ignoring, enabling, or supporting fascists, George Orwell was fighting them in Spain. There he took a fascist bullet in the throat. Later, back in England, and on the continent of Europe, Orwell lost family, friends, and property to fascist bombs and fascist bullets.

milosevic_trial_nazi_nuremburgYet after the war, Orwell wanted no part of the war-crimes tribunals convened to try and punish now-vanquished fascists. In a remarkable essay published November 9, 1945, Orwell concluded: “Revenge Is Sour.”

As people on the left continue to press for war-crimes tribunals to try and punish members of the now-vanquished Bush administration, Orwell’s essay, I think, deserves some attention.


Take Two

There are grumblings this morning that the United States should not accept the results of Friday’s presidential election in Iran, where incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been declared the victor.

Appearing on Meet the Press, Vice President Joe Biden opined:

“It sure looks like the way they’re suppressing speech, the way they’re suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there’s some real doubt.”

Maybe so, maybe so. Problem is that here, as in so many areas of human conduct, the US is precluded from objecting too loudly without prompting much of the world to snicker about American hypocrisy.

For in December of 2000, George W. Bush was selected as President of the United States, despite the fact that Albert Gore had won the election, if “winning” is defined, as it traditionally is, by receiving the most votes—which Gore did, in the disputed state of Florida, had every legitimate ballot cast actually been counted.

Those votes were not counted, however, because Bush operatives first forcibly shut down the counting of ballots, and then obtained a 5-4 ruling from the United States Supreme Court that permanently halted ballot-counting, effectively proclaiming Bush president.

Barack+Obama+Sworn+44th+President+United+States+GoTWPgeWK6GlThree of the five justices who installed Bush as president possessed conflicts that should have compelled them to recuse themselves from the case. Antonin Scalia’s son was a partner in the legal firm representing Bush before the high court. Clarence Thomas’ wife was busily processing applications for those seeking appointment to the yet-to-be Bush administration. Sandra Day O’Connor on election night had publicly exclaimed “this is terrible” upon learning that Gore had apparently won; she wished to retire from the bench, but would only do so under a Republican president.

Nonetheless, these folks, the supreme law of the land, declared Bush the victor, and so he was.

khameini-defend gazaNow, in Iran, the supreme law of that land, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has declared Ahmadinejad the victor. And so he is.

Both the United States Supreme Court and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini may boast of the word “supreme” in their titles. Both wear robes. Neither were elected by the people they govern to the positions they hold.

Meanwhile, from the safety of the tubes, voluble keyboard commandos are urging the Iranian people to resist recognizing Ahmadinejad’s re-election, decreeing: “If it comes down to a violent revolution, so be it.”

Maybe these people should reflect that it was a violent revolution, in 1979-80, that brought the current Iranian regime to power.

La Musica: Wake Up And Do Your Time (Tuesday Mix)

When I was in the jug, the guy in the next cell would each morning wake the block by cheerily chiming: “Wake up and do your time.”

The idea being that to sleep through the day was to cheat: to properly serve one’s sentence one had to be up and about. Doing something, anything, even if there was clearly no point to it, seeing as how as you were locked away in a cage.

More than twenty years on, age and ennui having transformed life itself into something of a sentence, I often come to consciousness with the same thought: “Wake up and do your time.”

The fact that there don’t seem to be any bars about when I today awake doesn’t really mean anything. In a long-abandoned novel, I pulled from the ether a character confined in a mental institution who proposed that part of the reason he was so confined was because he had discovered that the only really true free place on the planet is the Bohemian Grove. All else is prison. The fact that the prison is much larger than the free space, he pointed out, did not make it any less a prison.

Anyway. These days, to encourage me to wake up and do my time, I sometimes summon music. In recent months, I’ve taken to slouching into Tuesdays, as that day is referenced within it, behind a 1994 number from something called The Freddy Jones Band, “In a Daydream.”

You can find the thing below. The video is uninteresting and even a little frightening: those are some pretty pasty white boys. But the song itself does have that lift.

The Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon,” like “In a Daydream,” involves upbeat messages received from nature and pleasant misty mental states. Why Tuesdays would have such an effect on musicians I have no idea: the day is, after all, named after and ruled by the war god Mars, not a fellow normally associated with tree-hugging, cloud-luluing, and happily loving life.

“Tuesday Afternoon” was always a more melancholy song than “In A Daydream,” and today I find I get no lift from it whatsoever. This is no doubt at least partially the result of repeated exposure. Scoop Nisker used to caution that both experiences and memories are akin to cassette tapes: every time you play them, a wee bit rubs away. Play them over and over and over again, and eventually they’ll become so degraded they’ll barely sound at all. It was to combat this effect that Nisker would journey to Asia every year, there to enter for a month or so some Buddhist monastery, where he could “rest the tapes.”

An excellent example of how, in music, one can kill the one they love by obsessive repeated rewinding and replaying of the tape is San Francisco Chronicle Jon Carroll‘s experience with Paul Simon’s Graceland. For months and then years after the thing was released, Carroll waxed rhapsodic about it, over and over and over again. He couldn’t play it enough; couldn’t praise it enough; eventually, he sounded like Philip K. Dick genuflecting before Beethoven’s Ninth. Until, one day, to his shock, he discovered that he got nothing from Graceland at all. The thrill was gone. He’d completely degraded the tape.

And now the tubes tell me that there on the TV “Tuesday Afternoon” is currently being used to push Visa. Oh well.

It was shortly after I was subjected to the horror of Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” enlisted to sell dishwashing detergent that I retired my television.

He Got Old

images-17This morning in a medical waiting room I happened upon a dated copy of Sports Illustrated, in which a young professional basketball player, whose name escapes me, is asked to name his favorite movies.

He first cites some very recent film, and then opines that “if you’re talking about classics,” he would select He Got Game.

Now, He Got Game—my favorite Spike Lee joint—was released in 1998. In the film trade, the “classic” era is generally held to encompass the years from the late 1920s through the late 1950s. Meaning Spike’s Game misses by about 40 years.

Then again, to this guy, flowering there in his very early 20s, a film created before he reached puberty would seem naturally to have attained “classic” status—when you’re that young, eleven years can be a long, long time ago. Stuff just a decade or so past can seem nearly as remote as the Middle Ages.

When I was this guy’s age, watching films from the 1940s and 1950s, they seemed to come from a world long ago and far away.

Today, thirty years on, not so much.

Einstein was right: all is relative.

I grow old . . . I grow old
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

In The Name Of The Father

A 25-year-old Egyptian man whose father for more than two years repeatedly refused him permission to marry the woman of his choice retreated to his room Sunday and sliced off his penis with a hot knife.

Doctors were unable to reattach the severed member.

The young man was identified by AP as a member of a prominent Egyptian family in the southern province of Qena. He had sought to marry a woman of a lower class.

According to Sarah El Deeb of AP:

Traditionally, marriages in these conservative parts of southern Egypt are between similar social classes and often within the same extended families—and are rarely for love.

An AFP report indicates that the man had been ordered by his parents to marry another woman.

“He was in love with a woman but his parents rejected her and told him to marry another woman he didn’t want. He took a knife and cut off his penis in his room.”

Silent Spring

“But remember it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy.”

—Atticus Finch

Pakistani singer and poetess Ayman Udas was shot and killed by two of her brothers, who entered her Peshawar flat and fired three bullets into her chest while her husband was out fetching milk.

The motive has been variously ascribed to outrage over her “sin” in appearing on television, and violating “family traditions” by marrying for a second time—Udas, divorced and the mother of two children, had remarried but 10 days before her murder.

Her killers remain at large.


Variations In B-Flat: The Sakkudai

(The ancients spoke of the Music of the Spheres; modern scientists have discovered that the universe continuously sings in B-flat. In the past couple of years I’ve developed the whimsical notion that all human spiritual belief systems are attempts to interpret, explain, understand, this universal sound.

Colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, globalism, and the like have not only disrupted and diminished native cultures and languages, they have also encroached on thousands of unique spiritual belief systems. Given that determined devotees of the two dominant proselytizing religions, Christianity and Islam, have between them penetrated into every square inch of this globe, minority manners of hearing B-flat are today as much under threat as minority cultures, languages, and ecosystems.

I thought it might be worthwhile to explore here from time to time some of these more “minor” variations in B-flat. Not only those still struggling to survive, though largely unknown, but also those extinct, and those minority strains that have (or have not) succeeded in remaining within the “big five”–Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.)

First, and in many ways my favorite, B-flat according to the 3000 people of the Sakkudai, who live in the center of a modest island off the west coast of Sumatra, today part of Indonesia.

I discovered the Sakkudai while editing the sixth edition of Bill Dalton’s Indonesia Handbook. That was more than ten years ago, and I was somewhat surprised to find that Dalton provides in his book more information on the Sakkudai than may be found today anywhere on the tubes. There also do not seem to be any reliable photos of the Sakkudai on the tubes, and few of Pulau Siberut, the island whereupon the Sakkudai dwell.

The Sakkudai’s spiritual belief system, it should be noted, does not officially exist. Animism is against the law in Indonesia—which is absurd, because the majority of Indonesians are in truth animist. Nonetheless, the first principle of Indonesian state ideology is “belief in the one and only God.” Thus, the government sloppily, bizarrely, disingenuously slots various animist peoples as “Christians,” “Muslims,” or even “Hindus,” though the latter is not exactly perceived by most people who know anything about it as a monotheistic faith.


The Feeling Begins

There is no foolproof way to identify potential serial killers. There do, however, exist certain indicators. One is a tendency, as a youth, to abuse, torture, kill small animals.


That’s certainly the way the serial killer who recently occupied the White House began. Long before he set the entire world aflame, long before he methodically, sometimes mockingly, put people to death in Texas, long before he blithely branded on the ass his Yale classmates, young George W. Bush liked to mosey on out to his backyard there in Midland, and while away an afternoon blowing up frogs.


“We were terrible to animals,” chortled boyhood Bush bud Terry Throckmorton in a 2000 piece in the New York Times. Seems a dip behind the Bush residence would turn into a small lake after a rain, filling with thousands of frogs. “Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,” Throckmorton recalled. “Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.”


This One Goes Out To The One I Love

For more than 400 years, the people of the nations of Western Europe, and their far-scattered children, have cleaved to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the archetypal expression of “star-cross’d lovers” cruelly dealt by the triple doofi of family, culture, and fate.  

This month in Pakistan culminated a true-life tale to rival Shakespeare’s in anguish, violence, and determined ardor. Some might like it better. First, because it’s true. Second, because rather than tragedy, it is drama, resolving (seemingly) in a happy ending. “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love”: through rape, molestation, death threats, cultural upheaval, refused suicide, courtroom wrangling, long-suffering rejection, threatened suicide, and attempted suicide, Mukhtar Mai and Nasir Abbas Gabol have apparently emerged into a happily-ever-after of female bonding, plural marriage, and separate domiciles.

And, just as Romeo and Juliet has been occasionally condemned as “a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life,” wherein Romeo’s “male virility,” unopposed by Juliet’s “female code of docility,” bungs up everything through “ill-controlled, partially disguised aggression,” so too, for those so inclined, may the story of Mai and Gabol be rejected as not so happy after all.


Guantanamo Guard: “The Stuff I Did And The Stuff I Saw Was Just Wrong”

Army Specialist Brandon Neely arrived in Guantanamo on January 7, 2002, “while the cages of Camp X-Ray were still being welded.”

For the next six months, Neely witnessed “the arrival of the detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, possible isolation regime of the first six children in GTMO, [and] utter lack of preparation for guarding individuals detained during the War on Terror.”

Neely has now provided detailed accountings of all of the above to both The Guantanamo Testimonials Project of the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, and to the Associated Press. Brandon Neely has become a one-man truth and reconciliation commission:

I would greatly encourage any other military members who spent time at Guantanamo at any time to tell their story of what they went through, good or bad. It’s important that our stories are told. It’s history, and the people have the right to know. It’s a hard decision to tell your side of the story when you’re not sure of how it will be received, but it’s the right thing to do.


BushCo’s Guantanamo Recordkeeping: Literally Kafkaesque

(A reality to keep in mind, when impatient for the Obama administration to fix all the freakeries of the War On Terra now, at once. Originally posted January 30, 2009, at Never In Our Names.)

“I fear your case will end badly. You are held to be guilty. Your case will perhaps never get beyond a lower Court. Your guilt is supposed, for the present, at least, to be proved.” 
                                                                                     –Franz Kafka, The Trial

Reading the report in Sunday’s Washington Post about the sloppy, negligent, even contemptuous record-keeping in the BushCo White House involving the cases of those interned in Guantanamo, I was struck by the feeling I had encountered such surreal legal dishevelment somewhere before. A quick trip to my library, I discovered I was right. The Post article bore an eerie resemblance to passages from Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

Find here juxtaposed excerpts from Kafka’s work with the reality of what officials in the Obama administration have found as they attempt to arrive at a reasoned determination of how to resolve the cases of those people BushCo imprisoned in his War on Terra.  

As you consider the Post report, and your mind gyres out to encompass all the other “legal” abuses that have for the past too-many years occupied human-rights blogs, I think you’ll see what’s clear to me: the people in BushCo did not regard The Trial as a warning, a plea, a proscription, even dark farce. They used it as a fucking blueprint.


Political Murder

(The New Yorker recently published a profile of Malaysia’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whom the magazine describes as “[a] once imprisoned politician” who “may be his country’s best chance for reform.” The piece below was originally posted July 17, 2008 on Never In Our Names, and provides information complementary to the New Yorker piece. The fates of most of the folk cited in this piece are updated in the New Yorker story.)

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, head of the Malaysian opposition party PKR, will apparently be released on bail following his arrest on charges of sodomizing a former aide. In Malaysia, the “crime” of sodomy—with or without consent—is punished by five to twenty years in prison, plus whipping.

When the charges first surfaced, on June 30, Anwar took refuge in the Turkish embassy, his wife describing the sodomy allegations as “political murder.” “Not again,” Anwar told reporters from inside the embassy. “It’s a repeat of the same script.” Anwar previously spent six years in prison on falsified sodomy charges filed in 1998, after Anwar broke with his mentor, then-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, claiming the latter had responded poorly to the Asian financial crisis of 1997, wallowing in an orgy of corruption and cronyism. Anwar was ultimately acquitted and released.

Anwar left the Turkish embassy only after the government “guaranteed” his safety. The government also assured Anwar there would be “no repeat” of the events of 1998, when Anwar was brutally beaten, while shackled and blindfolded, by Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor. When the government suddenly announced on Wednesday that a warrant had been issued for Anwar’s arrest, protestors poured into the streets, to be dispersed with water cannon. Anwar agreed to turn himself in, but was instead arrested outside his home after returning from filing a statement with an anti-corruption agency. The latest wisdom is that Anwar is to be released on bail “soon.”


When I Worked

June 2009