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Friday, July 14, 2017

Punch out.

I think it's CMD-O or CMD-SHIFT-O, something like that. No? Okay, try CMD-ALT-5. Do it again. Okay, now divide 87 into 214 and multiply the dividend by the square-root of fuck-all. Jesus!

That was a bit of a tantrum, I admit it. It's just that I'm living in the wrong freaking century, that's all. I'm from that period in history when people did different things for a living and those things all looked different - the doctor had a stethoscope and a mirror on her forehead, the accountant an adding machine and a legal pad, and the musician a freaking guitar. Now everybody's sitting in front of a computer, pecking at keys randomly and hoping for some elusive result. Smarty alec kids! Get off my lawn!

Matt and I are in production on another tranche of songs, and it's taking a while because we're transitioning between recording systems. Now we're using a computer-based DAW instead of a proprietary hard disk system, and well ... I miss the simplicity of just pressing record and punching stop. Those were the days, right? (Well ... they were days.) Our autopunch back then was Marvin (my personal robot assistant) with his claw on the console and a complex series of eyebrow movements. What could possibly go wrong? (Listen to some of our albums and you'll find out.)

Uh, dude ... Thanks, but no thanks.Right now we're kind of winging it, I admit ... though that's a bit more considered a state than we're usually in during recording sessions. I boot up the new system, punch a few keys, then start playing whatever instrument is called for - piano, sousaphone, kazoo, triangle, whatever - and realize a few moments later that nothing has been captured. Rinse and repeat. I need a team of scientists! And I don't mean mad scientists - we're all set on that score. If we were to ask Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, to reconfigure our studio, we would end up with something on the order of what Magic Alex threw together for the Beatles back in the Apple Records days, i.e., a decorative, non-functional studio full of flashing lights with a speaker for every track and other non sequitur features.

Well, we don't want that. (No offense, Alex, wherever you are.) So if you're looking for me, look for that guy sitting at a computer terminal.

Last battles.

I listen to a few podcasts, mostly in my car. By the time I hear them, they're usually about a week or two old - I download a raft of them and dump them on to my ancient iPod. One of the ones I listen to is Jeremy Scahill's Intercepted, and it took me this long to hear his June 7 interview with Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president. This was billed under the headline "The Woman Democrats Love to Hate". I have a lot of respect for Scahill, but I think this interview demonstrates another type of delusion; namely, Stein's over-inflated sense of her own importance.

I have no doubt some Democrats blame her for Clinton's loss last year, but I doubt it's all that many - most of the Hillary-bots focus on Bernie Sanders when they look left. At least I hope Democrats don't spend a lot of energy hating Stein, because she really wasn't much of a factor at all. If Hillary Clinton was depending on Stein voters to carry her over the finish line - and there's little likelihood many of them would ever have decided to support Clinton - then her margin was way, way too narrow for any Democrat to win the presidency. Most of the centrist whining I hear is about the Bernie wing of the party, that they were too critical of Clinton and didn't work hard enough for her election or just withheld their votes. Nothing much about Stein at all, though they clearly don't like her.

Really not a factor in '16. Really.I agree with Stein on a lot of issues. In fact, I think I'm well to the left of the good Doctor. But the notion that the electoral duopoly can be taken down by supporting quixotic third-party presidential candidates is ludicrous, as is the suggestion that changing the way elections work in the United States is somehow "easy", as she suggests in this interview. The Green Party is a mess; they have yet to elect a congress member, senator, governor, or even lieutenant governor as far as I can tell. If they want to start contending in national elections, they need to start filling those seats first. They also need to organize around electoral reform, support instant runoff / ranked choice voting, and related proposals. Until that happens, Green Party candidates will split the center-left vote and throw our ridiculous first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections to the Republicans, time and time again. Those changes would be years in the making - they should have focused their energies on that for the last 20 years instead of random, pointless runs for the White House.

And Jeremy, I love you, but no, there's not constitutional provision instituting a two-party monopoly. There is, however, a constitutional electoral system that is antiquated and greatly favors the wealthy. We need to change that before any we can expect any meaningful opening for third parties.

Of course, there is a faster course to progressive change than spending decades building a new third party while simultaneously countering the tide of restrictive voting: occupy the Democratic party. Take over its local, state, and national committees. Transform it from within and push it from without through massive organizing. There's no law that says the Democratic party must remain within the grip of corporate money; we can change that dynamic much faster than we can build a new party (and a congenial political environment for the same) from the ground up. Instead of re-fighting old battles, we should do that.

luv u,

jp

Friday, July 7, 2017

All in favor.

Do we have a quorum? No? Where's Matt, then? Oh, right .... watching the falcons. That's fine. The mansized tuber can sit in for him for the time being. Okay, tubey ... raise your right, uh ... taproot.

Oh, hi. Caught me in the middle of a production meeting. We're trying to work out who is going to be the first down the hole ... I mean, the elevator to the center of the Earth. Since this is a question that affects all of us, it must be decided in council. That's right - we are not tree dwellers here, my friends. We are civilized people, okay? And we are familiar with the principles of self governance. At least we know there are such principles. And if you don't like them, well ... we have other principles.

I've described Big Green as a creative collective more than once. That's not far from wrong, though the creative part is a little sketchy. Nevertheless, we are very much a worker-run enterprise, operating out of an abandoned hammer mill, wearing recovered skins from the carcass of a failed industrial economy. Think of us as post-apocalyptic commie minstrels, sharing everything we scrounge together (including our lack of money). Routine matters, like opening windows or walking across the street, are passed by simple majority vote, but more weighty matters - like who is going to move that very heavy refrigerator across the room - require a consensus of four fifths plus one, with an extra vote on alternate Tuesdays.

All in favor, say aye.You might think such a flat structure would lead to some kind of anarchistic free-for-all or frequent proxy fights. Not a bit of it - we all get along swimmingly, particularly on occasions like last weekend when the skies opened up and we had 3 feet of water on the ground floor of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. Not that it's trouble free. I can remember one management meeting when Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, fashioned three or four robotic arms so that he could win every show of hands. He already has Marvin (my personal robot assistant) as a proxy. That's when we went to voice votes.

The simple fact is, when you don't have much to divide, it's a lot easier to be equitable. Everybody gets an equal slice of nothing. And everyone gets a say on who will be the first to explore the Earth's core. Fair is fair.

One way out.

Rockets went off on the Fourth of July as usual, though some were not the variety you can now apparently buy in New York State at any of what seems like a million roadside stands. I am of course referring to the launch of the North Korean "ICBM" and the response by the American expeditionary force permanently stationed in South Korea - namely a volley of missiles fired into the sea. The North Korea missile story was teased for a couple of days by the likes of Joe Scarborough, in between his raking over the details of some petty blackmail Trump's flunkies were pulling on him and his partner. Now it's full-court press on North Korea, reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric we heard prior to the Iraq war.

The first report I heard started with the term "provocation". It went downhill from there. The fact is, I have yet to hear from anyone on mainstream media programming who doesn't subscribe to the general consensus view that (a) North Korea is a madman aggressor nation, (b) only pressure on China can "bring them to heel", and (c) we tried negotiations and it didn't work. In fact, I have yet to hear any politicians on the center-left raise doubts about this toxic consensus. It seems with respect to this and similar conflicts, politics stop at the water's edge. That would be fine if they had it even half-right, but they don't.

Not worth itFirst of all, the madman aggressor notion ignores the fact that we maintain the most powerful military force on the peninsula. It also frames the issue as one centering on a leader's irrationality. Whatever the faults of the Pyongyang regime, it's not hard to see why they want a credible nuclear deterrent. It's actually a relatively sane response to the threat of attack from a superpower that (1) destroyed them once in the 1950s and (2) is a constant menacing presence, running mock invasions and leadership decapitation exercises several times a year. Second, the China "card" is irrelevant - North Korea's disagreement is with us, not China. That's why they're building an ICBM. They want what they've always wanted - a non-aggression guarantee from us, which is what China and Russia have called for - along with restraint from Pyongyang - after their recent summit.

Finally, the "we tried it" claim is false. We reneged on the 1994 nuclear deal, which involved our providing the North Koreans with a light-water nuclear reactor - something Clinton and the GOP Congress never followed through on. The 2000 election debacle stopped the Clinton foreign policy team from working out a non-aggression agreement with Kim Jong Il at the last minute, then two years later North Korea was added to the "Axis of Evil" by the Bush II administration, placing a big red bull's eye on their flank. That pretty much guaranteed the continuation of their nuclear weapons program.

We are experiencing the bitter outcome of consistently bad policy implemented by both major political parties. Such a longstanding consensus implies that there may be some merit to the suggestion made by Chomsky and others that the continuing Korean conflict serves our grander imperial vision by preventing the ultimate economic integration of northeast Asia. If China, Japan, and Korea lessened tensions and formed a cooperative arrangement of sorts, it would be a formidable economic rival to U.S. hegemony, to be sure.

The downside risks of this kind of brinkmanship are too great. There's one way out of this disaster: talk to Pyongyang. This is no longer an ideological dispute as it was framed in the 1950s (North Korea is a model for no one). This is about safety and survival for everyone on the Korean peninsula, and that needs to be the guiding star for our Korea policy moving forward.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 30, 2017

Down under what?

What the hell is that? Sounds like the howl of the wind in a box canyon. No, wait ... I know that sound. I think it's a distant didgeridoo. That's it, fellows - we have dug ourselves a tunnel to Australia.

Well, barely a day goes by here in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill without some kind of discovery. Last week it was a new source of precious reverb - a commodity rare as hen's teeth up here in central New York. Now we're looking at (or staring down into, I should say) a superhighway to down under. And when I say "down under", I don't mean merely down underground. Nay, sir ... I mean the actual land "Down Under", meaning the continent of Australia.

What luck, eh? Here I thought this elevator shaft to the center of the Earth would yield only another string of unsuccessful and unsatisfying performances in front of restive gaggles of Morlocks or some other troglodytic denizens of the dark. But now it seems the tunnel is a bit deeper than we thought ... like maybe twice as deep. Because you can just about see some light coming though from the other end, and it looks like Aussie sunlight. There's also a vague scent of flat beer. (Though I think that might be coming from Anti-Lincoln. He's been hitting the cache lately, and it shows.)

Then came MarvinWe could be wrong, of course. After all, one random strain of didgeridoo music does not a continent make. The only way to be certain is to send a emissary down there. It's a highly dangerous mission, so there's no way in hell that's going to be me. Matt's no stranger to danger, of course, but only in the context of helping birds, animals, and other living things. (Snowflake!) Then there's Marvin (my personal robot assistant). If he'd been around in 1969, NBC might have done a show about him called "Then came Marvin." He could have played a disillusioned android who starts riding a scooter around Minneapolis, then got canceled after two seasons.

Anywho, if we send Marvin down there and he comes up with an Aussie hat and a kangaroo's footprint on his brass, we'll know we hit Aussie paydirt. Sounds like a plan. Ish.

Sickness.

As I write this, the Senate Republicans have pulled their version of the ACA "repeal and replace" legislation - a bill that's really more a massive tax cut funded by massive cuts in Medicaid. This temporary hiatus is mostly down to the many thousands of people across the country who made their voices heard in various ways, and so to all of you I say job well done. That said, this job is not, in fact, done. The Republicans will be back very soon with a slightly amended version of the bill that can garner 50 votes, after having bought off key senators with part of that $300 billion-plus deficit reduction bundle built into this piece of legislative ordure. Just watch.

Two old men who will never need Medicaid.This entire situation - I won't say "debate" because there hasn't been any - is ridiculous largely because no one in Washington will admit to what the ACA's core problems are. The Republicans, and to a certain extent many Democrats, continue to insist that competition and a freer market in health insurance will deliver affordable coverage to everyone; just pull those sick people out of the system and into an underfunded high-risk pool, and the market can do its magic.

Bullshit. The "free market" approach to individual coverage doesn't work because individual health insurance is not a profitable line of business; insurers have known this for decades and have been pulling out of individual policies because they carry too much downside risk. They prefer large employer plans, where the only money being risked is that of the client company, not the insurer. Even if you start an individual health policy in good health, things inevitably go wrong and then the company is on the hook. Sure, they prefer younger, healthier folks as customers, but even they get cancer once in a while. Individual policies are not a money maker unless the market is so drastically tilted in the insurer's favor that they can basically sell nominal "coverage" to healthy people.

This is why Medicaid is such a popular program. Even the GOP's complaints about it all center on cost, not care. (They just see it as a cash cow.) Medicaid is not provided on market principles; neither is Medicare nor the veterans health program. No health insurance should be market-driven, because treating it like a commodity severely disadvantages poorer, older, and sicker people. Those categories apply to most everyone at some point in their lives. The only way to ensure that coverage will be there for all of us when we need it is single payer.

Last word: this Senate bill is sick; it is a tax cut scheme built on gutting Medicaid and pulling money from Medicare. And it will be back.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 23, 2017

More verb.

Give me a little more slack on this XLR. Little more ... little more ... woof! That's good. Now point the speaker down over the side of the hole. There's a good chap.

Right, well ... you've caught us in the midst of a pretty typical dilemma for bands as unsuccessful and under-resourced as Big Green. You probably know what I'm talking about (because I sure as hell don't). You've come to expect us to scrape our way through every situation, living in squat houses and lean-tos, taking the cheap seats on pretty much any mode of transportation you can name. So what the hell - we're not some fancy-ass successful band that can afford racks of expensive gear. We've got a bunch of second-hand kit that's held together with masking tape ... because that's what our audience demands.

So, when you need reverb, and you don't have an expensive effect unit, or even an old, cranky one, what the hell do you do? I'll tell you what - you just lower a microphone down the tunnel to the center of the Earth that's in your basement and then pipe in your tracks. It's a little boomy, but it beats the hell out of the reverb spring in my antiquated fender twin. This isn't the first time we've had to go old school - and by "old school", I mean effects that are almost entirely environmental in nature, like getting echo by scrambling up a hillside and shouting real loud. (Just be sure to bring a jar with you so you can catch the echo.)

No dice, Mitch?It's when you get into things like distortion that this approach gets a little tricky. Sometimes we just plug a guitar cord into Marvin (my personal robot assistant) and have him jump in place; though that ends up sounding a bit more like tremolo. I was thinking of asking Mitch to attach a leslie rotating horn to Marvin's head so that we can get a better B-3 sound while he's jumping up and down, but Mitch would probably just wave that suggestion off. (He's kind of picky when it comes to big ideas.)

Thing is, if you have a big empty space, or even a little one (like, say, between your ears), you can get a decent reverb effect. Tech tip for the day from Generation Reverb.