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Friday, July 13, 2018

Stage fright.

I spy with my little eye ... a boiler. Right over there. You can't see that? It's as big as a commercial refrigerator, for chrissake! What? Oh, right ... I forgot to turn the lights on. Been here too long, man ... I know this place like the back of my hand.

Well, here we are in the Cheney Hammer Mill basement, trying to survive the onslaught of another cycle of global warming-fueled temperature extremes. You have to fill you time with something, right? As I mentioned last week, we tossed around the idea of doing another interstellar tour. That is to say, I tossed it to Marvin (my personal robot assistant), he tossed it back, then I tossed it to Antimatter Lincoln, and he dunked it into the ancient cistern. Call me Kreskin, but it seems to me like nobody wants to do this tour thing.

Somehow it's not a surprise. We haven't been live on stage in a few years, and at that point, the idea of it starts to seem alien and hostile. Now, as it happens, most of our interstellar audiences are both alien AND hostile, so that's not such a bad thing. Still, I shudder to think of what might happen if we attempt a show on an outdoor stage on Titan and just freeze up like statues. (Not from fright, you understand - the surface temperature of Titan is minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. My point is ... aside from being frozen solid, we might be intimidated by the crowd as well.)

Cold as Titan. Now I know what that old saying means.I'm guessing there's a little pill we can take for stage fright. And there's probably one we can take for 290 degrees below, too. I'm sure we're not the only band to grapple with these types of questions. Why, I hear Mumford and Sons spent a week on Neptune waiting for a connecting flight to Proxima Centauri. Nobody said this was going to be easy, people. Look on the bright side. We have Mitch Macaphee, our own in-house mad scientist, who will no doubt contrive (or perhaps borrow from one of his fellow madmen) an appropriately appointed interstellar spacecraft. We've got, I don't know ... Marvin, who can ... lift very heavy things. We've got the mansized tuber who ... will not be joining us because he's taken root in the garden. Okay, scratch that.

Anyhow, the jury's out on this tour, people. Don't look at me - tell it to the band. They've been in the basement too long.

Justice denied.

Someone in recent days referred to Trump's new Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the Zelig of modern Republican politics as he has apparently played a role in nearly every major GOP political endeavor over the past quarter century. He worked with Ken Starr during the Clinton investigation in the 1990s and reportedly penned some of the crazier passages in the infamous Starr report. He served on the George W. Bush presidential campaign and played an important role in the Florida recount controversy, subsequently taking a job in the Bush White House, where he met his wife. Bush then appointed him to the DC Circuit Court, though not without a struggle.

Don't even think about it.Of course, none of this would be considered disqualifying for a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court. That said, let's not pretend that appointment and confirmation isn't an intrinsically political process, much as impeachment is. If an attorney can refuse a juror based on the way he or she looks, I think it's fair to expect that a senator has every right to reject a presidential nominee on the basis of his or her judicial philosophy. The right always attempts to characterize their "originalist" approach to constitutional law as a pragmatic practice of calling balls and strikes, following the law and the constitution as written, etc. The truth is far more complicated, of course - they have a political agenda that they've been pursuing relentlessly for decades while the center-left has been asleep on this issue. That's why, even with Kennedy, we have a Supreme Court that's well to the right of the American people.

So, given the fact that we are a politically divided nation (there are more people on the center-left than on the right, but let's call it even for the nonce) and given the fact that judicial appointments are always made with a political agenda in mind, why the hell don't we leave the Court the way it is, split down the middle, 4 to 4? It worked for Mitch McConnell in 2016, and frankly, it worked for me, too, particularly with decisions like Freidrichs v. California Teachers Association. As long as we as a nation are politically polarized, our highest court should reflect that polarization. A raft of 4-to-4 ties would simply mean there would be no national precedents set unless there was an unusual level of consensus on a specific case, such that one or more members of the opposition joined in a majority opinion. That seems like a better situation than having a permanent, predictable reactionary majority on the Court that is way out of step with public sentiment and basic human needs.

So, count me among those who say denial is better than delay. Block Trump's appointment - Kavanaugh or no - and leave the Court at eight justices.

luv u,

jp

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tourmageddon.

Idle hands do the devil's work, right? What about idle minds? Are they commandeered by some other malevolent agency? Inquiring minds want to know.

We appear to have arrived at the doldrums of summer a bit early here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill in beautiful upstate New York. Just finishing up a stretch of 90-degree plus days, some of them feeling over 100 degrees with the humidity. When it gets like that, we go subterranean - down into the cavernous basement of the mill, where it's about 30 degrees cooler and wherein we have built an alternative habitat of sorts. Makeshift furniture made of bits and bobs. Marvin (my personal robot assistant) has a charging station set up down there. It's a big, dank, windowless home away from home, perfect for summer staycation.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. It's anything but perfect. It's drab as hell and it reeks down here. Even worse, there's nothing to freaking do except scratch on the walls and think about shit. That's where the idle minds come in. I don't remember if it was my idea or someone else's, but at some point we got to talking about how we haven't done a tour in years, why that was the case, and where we would go if we decided to go on the road again. Before we knew it, we were scratching out the rough outline of a 40-city tour, using a sharp piece of slate on the cellar wall. I say rough because Anti-Lincoln can't tell the difference between Jupiter and Saturn - he keeps mixing them up, putting the rings around the wrong one. You may think that's a detail, but once you're out in interplanetary space, these details matter.

Io, Lincoln? I don't know ... Okay, so .... here's the hole we dug ourselves into, at least on paper (or, rather, concrete). Two weeks of engagements in the greater Jovian system - you know, the Great Red Spot, then on to Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (we limit ourselves to the Galilean moons because, well, they're more well-rounded). As stop-over at Saturn and Titan (always a lively show). Then from there, straight out of the solar system, assuming we can rent a vessel that will handle interstellar travel. Our mad science adviser Mitch Macaphee says he knows a guy. We'll see about that.

I must confess - I'm not sold on this idea, but if it keeps my colleagues content for a couple of weeks, there will be peace in the basement. And when the heat wave breaks, then maybe I can talk them out of another tourmageddon.

Bad alliance.

We started this week with some news flash about North Korea expanding its uranium enrichment capability. NBC talking heads were all on the job, rolling out the standard script on how the North Korean commies can't be trusted, how they've done this with successive U.S. administrations from Clinton forward, and how they've rolled a feckless president Trump by flattering him, gaining a massive concession - essentially, the prestige of a summit with the U.S. president - in exchange for nothing. There's broad agreement on this point on MSNBC, for example, meaning that everyone on the network who detests Trump, from National Review editors to Democratic party strategists, are saying roughly the same thing.

With friends like these ...What emerges is the same bipartisan consensus that has driven bad foreign policy decisions through administrations of both parties for as long as I've been alive (and, in truth, longer). It feels to me very much like the assholes vs. the fuckers, and while I certainly don't want the fuckers running everything, it's hard to support the assholes and maintain my self-respect. Now, before someone accuses me of Jimmy Dore-like animus toward strategic voting (note: I always vote strategically, specifically to avert the avoidable and wholly predictable disaster that's unfolding right now), I do have a slight preference for the assholes. But what we need is a radically new approach to national security and international relations - one that would make all of those pundits shake their heads.

This means more than simply not getting ourselves into "stupid" wars. This involves a deeper realization that we do not have the right to launch wars of choice under any circumstances. Radical change means a foreign policy that focuses on what's good for people both inside and outside of our national borders, not just what's good for U.S. based corporations and the rich people who own them. It means saying goodbye to the notion of an American empire and winding down the military machine, diverting resources to domestic economic security and international disaster relief efforts. It means owning the darker chapters of our history and being accountable for them as a nation.

Whatever we do in the short term to stanch the bleeding of this increasingly autocratic administration, we must keep a sharp vision in mind of where this country should go and seek to articulate that vision to our friends, our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, and strangers we meet.  If we overcome our short-term problems in part by making common cause with people we disagree with, it's essential that we keep our eye on a better future ... one that they may not want at all.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 29, 2018

Carbon trail.

Where the hell is that thing. It looks like, I don't know ... a futuristic space gun, or someone's concept of what a 1980s weapon would look like back in 1953. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Oh, hi. Just digging out the old technology here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, which (oddly enough) appears to contain every object I have ever owned and then some. It's like that house you keep returning to in your dreams - you know ... the one that looks kind of like the house you grew up in but that has a whole extra wing built onto one side that you never knew existed. You've been there, right? Or is that just me? I think it must be me. (I've been answering that very same question for decades now.)

Okay, so today, I asked Marvin (my personal robot assistant) to dig up my old demagnetizer. It's a plastic thing that looks like a cross between an electric iron and a glue gun, and it's used to service the heads on analog tape recorders, which tend to get magnetized after scraping against that magnetic tape for hours upon hours. Why is that a bad thing? I haven't any idea. All I can say is that, when Marvin gets magnetized, it can be extremely problematic ... especially if he's outside when the street cleaning machine comes along. (We had to pry him off that thing with a snow shovel once. It wasn't pretty.)

Go easy, Marvin.Small wonder the heads on my antiquated cassette tape machine have picked up a charge; I've been running hours of tape through that thing as part of my summer project to archive and restore Big Green's early recordings (1984-96) as well as some even more primordial stuff from the early 80s. Since practically all of the songs were recorded on analog audio cassette, which doesn't hold up all that well over the decades, it's just as well that I'm getting to this now. By the end of the process, I hope to have remastered early mixes of 150 to 200 songs, the vast majority written by my illustrious brother, Matt. That shiny tape makes for a bewildering trail (which is, in fact, pretty close to the title of one of those 200 songs).

You folks have heard a few examples from our early work. After this project is done, I expect you'll hear more, but don't quote me. I may get demagnetized before that happens.

In the white room.

Three big Supreme Court decisions this week, all stemming from one big electoral decision we all made two years ago. If one were to make the point that elections have consequences, one could hardly do it more effectively than by offering these disastrous judicial outcomes as evidence. For the life of me, I will never understand why Americans on the left side of the political spectrum do not consider the makeup of the Supreme Court (and the federal judiciary more broadly) as a voting issue of primary importance. I may be thinking about a lot of things when I mark that ballot, but no single item more than that of who will be deciding these cases for the next 30 years.

Trump's new BFF.This fact is about to be brought home to us all in a far more profound way: Justice Kennedy has announced that he will retire at the end of next month, and I have no doubt that Trump and McConnell will ram a nominee through the confirmation process faster than anyone can imagine. That will lock in a 5-4 reactionary majority on the Court that will be with us for a generation, reversing Roe v. Wade, detonating the remnants of the Voting Rights Act, and generally demonstrating that the Court cannot be relied upon to serve as a bulwark against aggressive extremism. I was never a big fan of Kennedy. Sure, he was the fifth vote on some crucial cases affecting LGBTQ rights and so on, but he is a stingy old stick who apparently isn't even giving a second thought to allowing this unstable president to choose his successor.

It's revenge of the white people. With the demographic tide turning against Republicans, the only way they can continue to win elections is through gerrymandering, voter fraud accusations, and an attack on the franchise wherever and whenever brown people dare to exercise it. They've made their way into power, and now they are bending every effort to close and lock the door behind them. They are able to keep us in their little white room because, since 2009, we have been either unable or unwilling to stop them from building and consolidating their control of government at every level.

So, what we have now is the same problem we had two, four, eight, and ten years ago. We just need to be willing to fight back in as many ways as are available to us. One is voting. Another is protest. But first and foremost, contact your senators and tell them to dig in, pull out the stops, and do whatever they can to keep Trump from appointing another Gorsuch.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 22, 2018

Flutter and wow.

Are two wells better than one? Depends on how thirsty you are. Oh ... you're talking about CASSETTE recorders. Right, well ... I have no position on that. No, wait ... play one tape at a time, that's my position. The Joe has spoken!

Caught me in the middle of a little philosophical discussion with one of Big Green's longest standing advisors, Antimatter Lincoln (or Anti-Lincoln, for short). Why he's been standing so long, I don't know. I think it's because when he was a kid he saw the audio animatronic Lincoln try to sit down and fall on his robot ass. (The other presidents assembled on stage nodded approvingly as the techs carried Abe away.) In any case, we're hashing over the fine points of obsolete technologies, particularly in the audio sphere. (Hey ... there's a band name for you. Audiosphere. No? Okay, then.)

My little summertime project is well underway. As I mentioned some time back, I have set myself to building a digital archive of most if not all of our recordings of original songs dating back to the days of the dinosaurs. (Or the days of Dinah Shore ... whichever comes first.) Anyhow, I am pulling old recordings from our pile of audio cassettes, and it's kind of strange. They range in audio quality from something approaching early wire recordings to cheap basement demos, with a few standouts that have some production values. Taken as a whole, it's a musical taxonomy of the thing called Big Green, which was born the day Matt recorded "Sweet Treason" back in 1984 and has slouched sightlessly toward the horizon ever since.

I THINK it goes a little something like this ...There were songs before Big Green, of course, and I've been digging through those as well. Matt started recording pretty much as soon as he could tell one end of a guitar from the other. Both he and I were always fascinated by tape recorders and other gear. We had a shrimpy little portable monaural reel-to-reel machine when we were kids, about the size of a steno pad, which we would use to record hastily contrived audio plays, jokes, and other bullshit. Matt recorded his first songs on an old SONY stereo reel-to-reel that kind of half worked. I remember working out a method for overdubbing, using a digital delay - you could arm one of the two channels for recording, run the playback of the other channel through the delay, and it would line up pretty closely. Then came the four-track cassette portastudio.

What will the final product of this be? Hell knows. I picture this big online jukebox where you can play any Big Green song you like. It's got flashing lights and an ashtray. That's as far as I've gotten.