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Friday, January 19, 2018

Hiatus be damned.

Yes, I know the phone is ringing. Just let it ring, for crying out loud. Don't people know we're on vacation? Jesus Christ on a bike, try to take a week off around this joint! What? Oh ... okay. It's the neighbor's phone. Stupid neighbors!

Hey, out there. You caught us taking a brief hiatus between the nothings that we have going on. (You can tell I'm on vacation because I say "hey" when I mean "hi" ... though that might also make me an NPR correspondent.) Everybody needs a little down time. We tend to have a little more than most people. In fact, you could argue that Big Green is a bit like a downtime reservoir. People come here to waste time; that's what makes the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill such a regional treasure. (And one man's trash, well ... you know the rest.) That's understandable - sometimes taking a hiatus can be heavy lifting. That's how people end up with hiatal hernias. (I'm just going to leave that right there.)

Do not disturbOkay, so ... when you're on vacation, you end up doing a bunch of stuff you don't ordinarily have time for. For me, that usually involves surfing the web, and in my idle wanderings a stumbled across another Big Green. No, I don't mean another BAND called Big Green - lord knows, there are at least one or two of those. This is a nutrition advocacy organization that works out of Detroit. Which means they are actually doing something USEFUL with our name, which is more than I can say for us. They're helping to feed people; we're wasting time with stuff like this. Case closed.

I haven't told our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee about the other Big Green because I don't want him to start doing what he always does, which is stew on something until smoke comes out of his ears. He sees threats everywhere, including the forge room at the mill, which mostly contains broken down machines and iron filings. When he wanders through there at night, he sees silhouetted in the darkness the hunched profiles of creatures he either invented or destroyed during his long, evil career. I can see how that might be unnerving, especially when you misplace your anti-depressant tabs the morning before. (We encourage Mitch to take his Paxil regularly. It's a kind of self-defense.)

Well, that's what we did on OUR winter vacation. And you?

Shit show.

This just in: President Trump is a racist. Who could have seen THAT coming? The administration's childish denials of the President's "shithole countries" comments, the persistent refrain of "tough language" and swearing all around - all of that belies the reported fact that Trump was bragging about his racist tirade to some of his right-wing allies, a few of which let the story slip. Frankly, I think the administration far prefers the focus on Trump's verbal diarrhea - it keeps the press from focusing on the underlying issues, which make less compelling television. (It also reinforces Trump's message to his base that he thinks like they do about dark people, foreigners, etc.)

Trump family reunionThere is also the fact that the President doesn't understand policy, isn't interested in it, and is incapable of delving any deeper than the surface of any political issue. He is kind of a blank slate, though he does obviously have deep-rooted visceral prejudices. Third-rate thinkers (and ninth-rate speechwriters) like Stephen Miller can scrawl their alt-right graffiti on the guy and he will repeat whatever they tell him. Retrograde bigots like General Kelly and Tom Cotton guide Trump like he's their senile uncle. So the President's feint towards compromise last Tuesday was transformed into the spectacle of last Thursday, when Trump denigrated an entire continent as well as the ex-colony that was a primary source of France's wealth.

The implicit racism of the administration's argument on immigration is far more stunning than his gutter rhetoric. They want less people from places like Haiti and Africa (!) and more people from places like Norway; they see this as an argument for a more "merit-based" system, because they can't conceive of the possibility that people from Haiti or African countries are (a) educated, (b) highly skilled, or (c) industrious. Because they are, well, black, the administration thinks of them as a hoard of hut-dwelling wash-outs in search of free services. That is basically a textbook definition of racism, even without the S-bomb. They have a 1940s cartoon-level conception of these foreign lands and the people that inhabit them, and they use that to add fuel to their fear-mongering.

Let's face it: immigrants, particularly darker ones, are an easy political target; always have been. I hear people much smarter than Trump employing the same tactics, pointing to crimes by foreign nationals and generalizing select incidents to tar entire populations, an art form mastered by the Nazi propagandists. This kind of hate is our enemy, and we need to fight it on the beaches, in the streets, in the alleys, and in the doorways. We must never surrender to it.

luv u,

jp

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stage fright.

I like to play it in C. Mostly because it's an easy key, okay? You got a problem with easy? Huh? All right then - WE'LL DO IT LIVE!

Whoa, was that mic live? Sorry, everyone. Caught us in the midst of what passes for a band meeting here in Big Green land. (And I don't mean Canada, which kind of looks like a big Greenland.) As you probably know, everything I say gets transcribed into this blog, so you are truly getting a slice of life here. I obviously don't do a lot of talking, or this blog would be waaaaay longer. No sir - I just talk for about fifteen minutes, twice a week, and you can read it all here. Hot off the presses!

Okay, that's a lie. See what happens when I don't want to talk about something? That "something" is, well, playing live, which is something we don't do a whole lot anymore. Not saying we won't do it again, God no. Only, well ... we're a little older than we were forty years ago, and Matt and I are kind of settled in our ways. The mansized tuber has put down roots, and Marvin (my personal robot assistant) doesn't move as fast as he used to, owing in large measure to rust and loose The hell it is!contacts. (Yes, that's right, lady robots - he wears contacts.) So it's not stage fright. More like existential angst.

Funny thing is, when we DID play all the time, we sometimes played other people's music. And one of those songs was Stage Fright, by The Band. So you could say that the reason we don't play local clubs and dance halls is Stage Fright, but that would be suggesting that this particular song plays an important role in our repertoire, and we don't remember how to play it. Yes, I play it in C, but everyone else remembers it in A or D or some other dumbass key. I think I'm right, they think I'm crazy - stalemate! And if that were the only song we play, well ... we couldn't play.

Well, we got that straightened out. Now ... on to the Badfinger set. Oh, doctor.

Overseas.

Hmmm... crazy racist grandpa has been mouthing off again. Trump is truly breaking all records in the bigot category, at least with respect to the modern presidency. But I digress. There has been so much news about various story lines in the Trump scandal that a lot of consequential international news gets blown out of the water. These are extremely volatile times and we would do well to pay closer attention to what's happening overseas, particularly when our country is playing a significant role in it. Of course, some attention is paid to the Korean crisis, perhaps in part because of the high human stakes involved, but more likely because of the insipid pissing match between Kim Jong Un and our madman president, who is singularly uninformed about the history of that region. Our news media loves pissing matches - so easy to report on.

There he goes again.The two Koreas have taken some tentative steps to de-escalation, and I for one am glad to see that. In fact, I wish they would just bury the hatchet and tell us to take a hike, frankly. But it's the kind of detente that can easily be upended by a volatile president, and Korea is one of those issues over which even the craziest commander-in-chief can find willing allies in Congress. Israel/Palestine is another. Trump's policy on Jerusalem is appalling, but it also happens to be the same policy Congress long ago approved and a previous president (Clinton) signed into law. This is a symbolic issue domestically and a very substantive issue internationally; I am guessing that most Americans have no idea what the implications of this policy are, no notion of how large the municipality now called Jerusalem has grown over the past three decades. Underwriting Israel's unilateral annexation of this city essentially eliminates any chance of a two-state solution, period. Some of my countrymen know this; many more do not, or simply do not care.

Even Trump's domestic policy, enabled by Congress's inaction, has international implications. Take his ending of Temporary Protective Status for refugees from El Salvador. There is no way in hell that the husk of a country those people left behind decades ago can absorb 200,000 of them, even if they wanted to go back. Haiti is a similar story. But this is the reality we live in now. This executive policy shatters lives and threatens the stability (to the extent that there is any) of Central America and the Caribbean. Again, Congress could stop this ... but does nothing.

Color me disgusted.

luv u,

jp

Friday, January 5, 2018

Inside December/January.

Did you toss it up there? Good. High enough for everyone to reach, I hope. Sometimes you have to warm the arm up a bit, like the old windmill baseball pitch, then let it fly, and hopefully it lands right in the sweet spot. That's pretty much all you can do. Server technology is tricky as hell. Oh, hi. As you may or may not know, we posted our Holiday/New Year episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, this past week, and already it's generating serious buzz. No, seriously ... I try to listen to it, and all I get is a buzz. (I'm told that's my ear buds.) Now, if YOU listen to it, you're likely to hear the following:  

NED TREK 35: The Romney Christmas Special / Ned Trek Reunion Special. Well, we tried to make an extravaganza this year, and obviously failed. Then we tried to get the lousy show up in time for Christmas, and, again, we failed. However, it has been posted in time for New Year's, and this special Ned Trek is certainly worthy of a holiday as nondescript as New Year's. The intention was to put together something that resembles one of those lame reunion specials for The Brady Bunch or The Manson Family (hint: one of those is fake), including some unknown hireling actor playing Jan (or in our case, playing Perle). Also featured is Jimmy Sweetwater, the guy inside the Nixon robot (not the voice actor). The "special" is variously hosted by Gladston Goodstein (aka Peter Lorre), Dr. Carl Sagan, and Lee Majors.

Embedded in the show are six Big Green songs, including:

Romney Christmas Special Theme Song - A ludicrous little number featuring Nixon, Kissinger, actual Perle, Ned, Willard and other voices. Covers some of the thematic underpinnings of this failed adventure in audio entertainment.

Christmas Business - Another Willard number capturing the true confiscatory spirit of the holidays. Refreshingly brief.

Sorry, man. You're not needed this year.Plastic Head - This song is a slight redo of a number Matt did for his 1988 Christmas tape, this version sung by Ned. All about a vehicular encounter with a roadside Christmas miracle coupled with metaphysical transposition. Just listen - you'll get it.

Bobby Sweet - A new song, roughly about America's gun culture. At Christmas.

Christmas To End - This is another retread of a song Matt wrote for one of his gift tapes, this one from 1994, re-recorded as a Sulu song. Let the war on Christmas begin ... again.

He Does It For Spite - Re-recording of a song from Matt's legendary 1990 Christmas tape, about a spoiler spirit from the great beyond. True story.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN. Matt and I talk about ... uh ... I don't know what. We do bad accents, talk about beavers, sing weird songs, and generally make merry by the standards of this dark time. Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it. (And hopefully a whole lot more.)

In with the old.

It's manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can't win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump's win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition - quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.

World's most effective boneheadI've written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients' interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There's a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.

As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump's terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves - this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew's plan to tear down what's left of America's social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security - programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a "generational" obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan's favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.

So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.

luv u,

jp

Friday, December 29, 2017

Unwrapping.

I got socks this year. Lots of socks. And a few discarded ties. Plus some bricks from the courtyard. No, they weren't loose - the mansized tuber just pulled them out of the courtyard and gave them to me. Yeah, I put them back. Now that's a holiday to remember.

Well, I don't know what kind of a Christmas YOU had, but here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill in upstate New York, we had a rousing celebration that quite nearly woke the dead. No, it wasn't well attended, but Marvin (my personal robot assistant) cranked up the stereo and started playing random sides from Sun Ra to Fountains of Wayne. It was Christmas in crazytown, and it didn't go unnoticed by our neighbors, who (I feel compelled to say) were ... ahem ... a bit LACKING this year in the HOLIDAY SPIRIT. (You heard!)

Then there were random fireworks. Now, I hate to be a spoil sport, but I don't like hearing explosions late at night. It makes me jump, and my mind goes straight to some imagined mishap in Mitch Macaphee's lab. It took a moment to recall that he's out of town this week, but the downside risk of having a mad science laboratory in your basement does tend to put you on alert. He was Keep it DOWN!muttering something about a "planet buster" last week. Sometimes that's just idle rambling, but you can never be too sure. Look at what happened to the planet Zorchon. (Yeah, that's right - there IS no planet Zorchon, sure .... not NOW.)

So, hey ... there's a lot to unwrap with the kind of holidays we have around here. People tend to save up their resentments and hard feelings all year, then let them loose on their relatives around the yuletide dinner table. That's not what happens at the Cheney Hammer Mill, but only because we don't have a dinner table. We typically sit around this old cable spool we found in the middle of the road one time when we were driving back from a gig at Middlebury College in the 1990s. It makes a fair table ... not a HOLIDAY table, per se, but a fair platform for dishes, cutlery, etc. Then there are the boxes we sit on - can't remember where we found those. Talk about festive!

Anyway, we survived it. Hope you survived yours.