Archive for July, 2009

Cambridge Goddam

(This piece was originally posted to Daily Kos. All iterations of “this blog,” “this site,” and the like, thus reference that place, not this one.)

When they slapped the cuffs on Henry Louis Gates Jr., they took it all away from him. In his 58 years he’d done everything he was supposed to, played all the games, made all the moves, but now none of it mattered: when it came right down to it, he was just another uppity Negro, and he was going to jail.

This was the supreme humiliation for Henry Louis Gates, because he has achieved a rarefied status and the considerations that are usually afforded to him went right out the window when the officer arrested him. In a minute, that cop erased all that Gates has had to work through to get where he is. That officer tripped every racial humiliation that Gates and his family have experienced since slavery.”

Brought it all back home. And today Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is sitting there on the piano bench, right next to Nina Simone, and he’s singing “Cambridge Goddam.”


Peasant Palate: Lamb For Possum

Seems possum, a.k.a. Jerry Northington, once and future candidate for Delaware’s lone seat in the US House of Representatives, likes to gnaw on little lambs.

Not all Americans are so inclined. My daughter, for instance, still pretty young, eschews little lambs for “Mary-had-a” reasons. My mother, not quite so young, avoids the creature because, while growing up during the Great Depression, she was too often invited to the family table to dine on tough—though plenty cheap—mutton. Sixty years on, she remains averse to encountering even the odor of the ruminant, as it bubbles in the pot, much less the thing itself, placed on a plate before her. Understood.

But in this “Peasant Palate” we pay no attention to such people. Instead, with possum, we bare our fangs, and prepare to receive between them little sheeps. Know that the mutton that so nauseated my mother is not on the menu: “lamb,” which is what is today sold in American supermarkets and butcher shops, and is referenced in all seven recipes below, comes from the beastie cut down before it enters its second year. It is sheep slaughtered past that date that become “mutton.”

As the first two recipes are Italian, a little Italian food music to take us to the “furthur,” music presented in three languages: English, Italian, and scat.


Late For Bloomsday

Exquisite variations he was now describing on an air Youth here has End by Jans Pieter Sweelinck, a Dutchman of Amsterdam where the frows come from. Even more he liked an old German song of Johannes Jeep about the clear sea and the voices of sirens, sweet murderers of men, which boggled Bloom a bit:

Von der Sirenen Listigkeit
Tun die Poeten dichten

These opening bars he sang and translated extempore. Bloom, nodding, said he perfectly understood and begged him to go on by all means, which he did.

The True Story Of Billy The Kid

There was nothing at the edge of the river
But dry grass and cotton candy.
“Alias,” I said to him. “Alias,
Somebody there makes us want to drink the river
Somebody wants to thirst us.”
“Kid,” he said. “No river
Wants to trap men. There ain’t no malice in it. Try
To understand.” 








We stood there by that little river and Alias took off his shirt
          and I took off my shirt
I was never real. Alias was never real.
Or that big cotton tree or the ground.
Or the little river.

—Jack Spicer, “Billy The Kid,” The Collected Books of Jack Spicer 

La Musica: Dreams

I used to think dreams were magic. A portal into someplace special. I read all the Jung, all the dream books. I kept journals. Traced the trails of my unconscious, looking for Meanings and Grails.midnight_dreams

I now think that’s all a load of bollocks, to be frank. Dreams are but a nocturnal processing system, of information received while the corporeal container is up and about. In any remembered dream I can easily find analogues to events or emotions experienced in an earlier waking state. Or nudges towards things I should, as KGO’s Ray Taliaferro puts it, “be thinking about, talking about, or doing something about.”

Maybe I’ve just soured on dreams because they don’t give me anything anymore. Maybe the problem is, as Joseph Kern says in Red, “it’s been years since I dreamt something nice.” Well, not quite that bad. But close.  

Some guy on the radio said Vitamin B6 stimulates vivid dreaming. I’m trying that. Nothing to report.


Puma Pellets

One of the more bizarre spectacles of the 2008 presidential campaign had to be the PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass)—Clinton II dead-enders who absolutely refused to accept that she had lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. Like those furtive, fugitive WWII Japanese soldiers who scurried for years around remote South Pacific atolls, declining to follow the Emperor into surrender, PUMAs could not concede when their Queen did.hillary-clinton-eyes They left the party, claiming the party, in failing to crown Clinton II, had left them. Stubborn and ornery as unreconstructed Confederates, there were never that many of them, but they made a lot of noise: pounding their keyboards on renegade blogs, keening loudly on gossipy TV shows. Resembling those bullfrogs that swell up to intimidate potential predators, they managed to convince some people they were bigger and fiercer than they really were. In the end, they even encouraged Bomb McCain—when ordered by Karl Rove to eschew Joe Lieberman as his vice president—to shoot his own campaign right in the stomach, by choosing the moose-brained Sarah Palin as his running mate . . . on the theory she would stampede the PUMAs to the GOP, allowing him to ride them into the White House. Didn’t work out too good, that one, did it, John?

Like cancer cells beaten into remission, they glumly clung on through the general election. Then, not even President Obama’s selection of Clinton II as his Secretary of State mollified them. On blogs like No Quarter, a nut-bunker maintained by former CIA spook and fervent Islamophobe Larry Johnson, and The Confluence and Alegre’s Corner, a couple of shriek-shacks knocked together by refugees from Daily Kos, the PUMAs practiced a sort of political schizophrenia: damning or ignoring everything that could be said to come from Obama, while gushing over anything that could plausibly be linked to Clinton II. And they’re still at it.

There were also always closeted PUMAs in more high-profile positions, of course. These, however, were, from the convention on, generally well-behaved. Until this week. Now, for some reason, they’ve decided to commence the handwringing: the Queen is being Ignored.


Alexander Unveiled

0128-alexander-the-great“It was the conquests themselves that were the driving force of Alexander’s conquests. Conquest was itself the point of conquest. And the final result of his conquests was the phenomenon of conquest.

“He did not unite anything, did not lay the foundation for anything, did not create anything. The first pure bandit in history, the first instinctive predator, the first disinterested wreaker of genocide. A sort of horrible sewer pipe. Something went gurgling through it, but nothing remained after. Thin air, empty space, a void.”
                                                                —Tadeusz Konwicki, Moonrise, Moonset

Cineman: Crashing The Gates

A friend of mine this spring became embroiled in a tedious and prolonged conflict with Authority. As can sometimes happen in the course of such conflicts, my friend found 829430taxi-driver-mohawk-guns-postershimself now and again fantasizing about piloting a motor vehicle through the front window of the headquarters of said Authority.

This would have solved nothing, of course, but the mere mental expression of it served to satisfy the desire, as well as relieve his blood pressure, at least for a bit.

There was a piece last week in the New York Times about this, titled “Why The Imp In Your Brain Gets Out.” It considered the mental phenomenon of receiving a seemingly irresistible impulse to, say, moon your boss, or hurl hors d’oeuvres at a boor. According to a paper submitted to Science, a “susceptibility to rude fantasies in fact reflects the workings of a normally sensitive, social brain.” Well, that’s a relief. Apparently the “adult brain expends at least as much energy on inhibition as on action”; thus, “to avoid blurting out that a colleague is a raging hypocrite, the brain must first imagine just that.” Things can get tricky, though, for once the brain is inhabited by such a thought, “the very presence of that catastrophic insult . . . increases the odds that the brain will spit it out.”

So: yet another manufacturer’s defect.

Anyway. My friend’s situation led me to muse a bit about memorable scenes in cinema of people who do not manage to contain the irresistible impulse, to corral the imp, and so set about physically assaulting the edifi of Authority. Problem is, in raking through my brain, I found the place kind of arid. After a lifetime of deep immersion in film, I’ve recently fallen out of the habit of frequenting the cinematic well—haven’t been to a theater in more than a year, not much better in watching DVDs. As a result, I guess, my filmic memory has pretty much dried up.

Oh well. Maybe the seven films feebly recalled on the other side of the “furthur” will have something for somebody. 


That’s Just The Way It Is

I try to maintain a sunny outlook. I reject original sin. I believe human beings are born innocent, and that they are perfectible. I see things, in the main, trending towards the good. kids4I am not a Pollyanna; I know the world is a mass of suffering; yet I believe, with Martin Luther King, with our president, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And then something happens that laughs at me. Mocks me as a fool, lost in illusion. Whispers in an ugly way that some things will never change. That the world will always be awash in ignorance, hatred, fear.

This week, this one really hurt my heart.

More than 60 campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club and left to wonder if their race was the reason.

“I heard this lady, she was like, ‘Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?’ She’s like, ‘I’m scared they might do something to my child,'” said camper Dymire Baylor.

The Creative Steps Day Camp paid more than $1900 to The Valley Swim Club. The Valley Swim Club is a private club that advertises open membership. But the campers’ first visit to the pool suggested otherwise.

“When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool,” Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. “The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately.”

“They just kicked us out,” said camper Simer Burwell.

“There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion and the atmosphere of the club,” John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

We already went through this. It was the 1950 injunction by poolblack450United States District Court Judge Rubey M. Hulen of the Eastern District of Missouri requiring the city of St Louis to open its Fairground Park swimming pool to people of color that sparked the United States Supreme Court’s decision four years later, in Brown v. Board of Education, that mandated racial integration and supposedly wrote the notion of “separate but equal” out of this nation’s laws

Judge Hulen died in July of 1956, about a month before I was born. It’s as if all those years never passed. We’re still back in Judge Hulen’s time. “All the years combine; they melt into a dream.”

Our president may today occupy a duskier shade of the color bar, but in their hearts, too many of our people still believe, with Strom Thurmond, that it is wrong to “admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” They just don’t have guts enough to say it. Until children come for their water.

The Secret History Of The Roman Empire

I was considerably taken with how you never know the sure meaning of a Latin sentence until you hear the last syllable of the last word. 7Spartacus_CrucifiedIn Latin if you want to say, ‘I drink poison from the glass,’ you can put it in any order you wish. For example: ‘Poison from the glass drink I.’ Then the listener wouldn’t know who took poison until ‘drink I’ is spoken. That means people had to be alert. It was very easy to trick your neighbor. Now the Romans were the first nation to live consistently in terms of world conquest, and perhaps there was a certain unconscious conspiracy to construct the language that way. So that only the people who were most alert, most unscrupulous, most tricky, and most concerned with getting their way would be adept in the tongue. It was a language for people seeking power and ready to use all means to obtain it.”
                                                                            —Norman Mailer, Pontifications

Powell Coming Out

People are permitted to grow wiser as they grow older, and when they do, we should try not to give them a hard time.

While campaigning for president, Bill Clinton promised to lift the military’s ban on gay service personnel. Once in office, his plans encountered stiff opposition from senior members of the military, conservative Congressmembers, and various assorted bluenoses from across the fruited plain. gayarmyEven as Senator Sam Nunn presided over a carnival of a congressional hearing, during which assorted beribboned potentates and scholastic hacks soberly intoned that the Republic would Faint Dead Away if openly gay people were permitted to take up arms, Colin Powell, then serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quietly assembled support for a “compromise,” in which gay people might serve, so long as they did not openly declare themselves, or engage in sexual relations. In return, the military would cease its punitive “homosexual hunts.” Clinton, eager to put the issue behind him, so that he could get on to bungling health care, caved. And so Powell’s policy, soon dubbed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” sailed through Congress, to be anchored into federal law as 10 USC 654.

While maintaining that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy “was correct for the time,” in an appearance this past Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Powell signaled that it is now time for that policy to go.


History Lesson

“Can you remember the name of any one of the soldiers who were killed in the Hundred Years’ War? Have you ever tried to find out one single name among them all? No, you can’t; you’ve never tried, have you? To you they’re all anonymous, unknown and less important than the least atom in this paperweight on the table in front of you, less important than the food your bowels digested yesterday. You can see that they died for nothing. For nothing at all. I swear that’s true; you can see that it is. Only life itself is of any importance. Ten thousand years hence I’ll bet youimag0754that this war, all-important as it seems to us now, will be completely forgotten. Possibly a dozen or so learned men may wrangle about it occasionally, and about the dates of the chief hecatombs for which it was famous. Up to the present time that is all that Humanity has ever succeeded in finding memorable about itself . . .” 

—Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey To The End Of The Night 

Wanna Be Stealin’ Somethin’

In the heyday of rocknroll, white musicians were occasionally apprehended in the act of brazenly stealing the work of black artists. Perhaps the most notorious offenders were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who once had the effrontery to rip off Robert Johnson, of all people, and for “Love In Vain.” They were promptly slapped down by Rolling Stone, bustedwhich growled that they “should know better”; subsequent pressings of Let It Bleed properly credited Johnson. The Stones had already, and more successfully, filched songwriting credit for “The Last Time” from the Blind Boys of Alabama.

To be fair, Jagger’s sticky fingers were not confined solely to picking the pockets of black artists. He also wrested credit for “Wild Horses” from country boy Gram Parsons (who conveniently died during the struggle), and later floated as his own a boatload of tunes from bandmate Mick Taylor. Perhaps his most base act of thievery came when he placed his name on inamorata Marianne Faithfull’s “Sister Morphine”; only in recent years, and at the urging of Keith Richards, has Faithfull’s song been returned to her (Faithfull also had a hand in “Wild Horses”; that credit does not appear to be forthcoming, at least not any time soon).

Now, as they enter their twilight years, the Stones find themselves querulously pursuing people they perceive to be pirating their work, as in a 2008 action against Lil Wayne, for allegedly appropriating, without permission, pieces of the Stones’ “Play With Fire.” Amusingly, for a band that for so long marketed itself as “the bad boys of rocknroll” (“the Beatles want to hold your hand; the Stones want to pillage your town”), the suit against Lil Wayne additionally sniffed that Wayne’s riff on “Play With Fire” contained “explicit, sexist and offensive language” that, if associated with the Stones, might cause the aging rockers Harm.

jackson-and-rihannaOne would think that, particularly given such history, black artists might be more sensitive to laying hands on one another’s work. But one would be wrong. For, as Kelefa Sanneh relates in the July 6 New Yorker, Michael Jackson built “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” the first track off Thriller, on “Soul Makossa,” a song by Cameroon musician Manu Dibango. Jackson was eventually forced to come to a financial arrangement with Dibango, but apparently did not learn his lesson. For, even as he collapsed last week into death, he was facing another suit, in France, alleging that he had passed sampling rights to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” to Rihanna for her hit “Don’t Stop The Music.” Problem is, he wasn’t empowered to pass on said rights without Dibango’s say-so, which he had failed to ask for or obtain.


Sheep Dip

The latest reality for the global-warming deniers and minimizers to ignore or explain away is the shrinkage of Scottish sheep.

Anglo-American researchers have determined that on Hirta island, located in the blue-soaywild and windswept Atlantic some 100 miles west of mainland Scotland, Soay sheep are shrinking at a rate of roughly 3 ounces per year. The cumulative effect has been a 5% reduction in total body size over the past 24 years.

While evolution had previously favored larger sheep, as better able to survive Hirta’s harsh winters, “researchers have concluded that warming temperatures have made it easier for scrawnier sheep to survive, thus reducing the average size of animals in the herd.” 

As the Los Angeles Times puts it, this study “offers unusual proof that large animals are already evolving to adapt to changes wrought by climate change.” 


Man Without A Country

The foghorns of the right expended a considerable amount of time and energy bellowing about the four innocent Uighurs recently released from the Guantanamo gulag gharani_detenido300and relocated to Bermuda. But somehow they have emitted not a sound about Mohammed el-Gharani, another innocent man lately freed from Guantanamo.

Born in Saudi Arabia of Chadian parents, Gharani spent seven of his 21 years at Guantanamo; he was interned there when only 14. Released from Guantanamo in early June, Gharani is currently marooned in Chad, where he was dumped by the US government. He does not speak the language, had never before set foot in Chad, has been told by government officials that they’re not sure they consider him Chadian, and has not been able to obtain a Chadian ID card. Yet he describes himself as “happy.” 

“Walking around with no guards, with no shackles, it’s beautiful,” he says.

“If you’ve been in shackles for seven years every day, you will go to Chad. You will go anywhere.”


La Musica: Wicked Game (Friday Mix)

I am more sympathetic to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his lover, Argentine businesswoman María Belén Chapur, than is apparently allowed by the judgemental fulminators of either the left or the right. To the former, Sanford is a laughable hypocrite; to the latter, a repugnant sinner. To both, Chapur is a “slut” and a “homewrecker.” To me, they’re just human beings, skewered by love. No blame, no balm.

At some point I plan to inscribe a long and no doubt musty essay about the recent confluence in the news of Sanford, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson, all of whom were occupied by loves unconfined by the rigid de rigueur American cage of one man one woman, happy together happy forever, till death do us part.

But that’s a lot of work, and I’m lazy. So instead I’ll play some music, here on this Friday, the day traditionally ruled by Venus, she who oversees love, in all its many variations.


When I Worked

July 2009