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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.

Hostage crisis.

It took more than a week of growing pressure, but it appears Trump has blinked on the policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. That hasn't stopped them from using these people as hostages in an effort to pass draconian revisions to the country's immigration laws. More than 2,300 minors, including many under 5 years old, remain in detention facilities across the country, under separate administrative jurisdiction than the entities that are holding their immigrant parents. Very little has changed, in effect, for these families that have been dismembered by this bigoted administration, acting out the fever-dreams of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and would-be school shooter Steven Miller (a.k.a. worst speechwriter in the history of the profession) in an effort to seem "tough" on those dark foreigners their constituents love to hate.

Miller, pictured here after drinking a tall glass of children's tears.As reported by Chris Hayes and commented on by the folks at The Majority Report, more than 90% of the adults with children caught crossing the border are being charged with a federal misdemeanor. So for a "crime" equivalent in the federal government's eyes to transporting water hyacinths (title 18, section 46) or improperly using the image of Smokey the Bear (section 711), you can have your children taken away. That sounds fair, right? Still, to hear many Republican legislators or garden-variety Trump supporters describe it, a substantial number of these people are either (1) human traffickers posing as families, or (2) crisis actors deliberately trying to make Trump look bad. The first one is hilarious. In what world does a human trafficker bring just one kid across the border, let alone in a manner likely to get them arrested? Pretty bad business model for someone trying to profit off of human misery. (Claim #2 is just too ridiculous to comment on.)

My substandard Congressional representative, the fragrant Claudia Tenney, made a statement about this matter that parrots the administration, right down to the invocation of MS13, a Los Angeles-born gang whose terror is forcing many of the people she denounces into refugee status in the first place. No surprises there. For Trump and his GOP allies, like Tenney, this is really just a test of zero-tolerance policy moving forward. If we swallow this, what else can they put on our plates? It doesn't require a lot of imagination to guess where they might go next. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, give or take a few hundred thousand. If Trump and company choose to go "zero-tolerance" on them, we will end up with that "deportation force" he was threatening to establish during the campaign. Very likely, this is just the beginning, particularly as the White House is ranging around for ways to light a fire under their base in advance of the mid-term elections.

Collectively (and individually), we have to decide how much of this thuggish behavior we're willing to tolerate before we ALL stand in the street. Stay tuned.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 15, 2018

Inside June.

The Show So Far: First there were two guys talking, then we saw some cartoons, then a fully dressed naval officer jumped into the North Sea, then there were more cartoons, then some guy told us about what happened so far, then .... Oh, wait ... that was another show. Sorry.

As some of you may have noticed, we dropped the June 2018 installment of our podcast THIS IS BIG GREEN, which breaks a kind of long hiatus. Still, it's 2-½ hours of stuff, including eight new songs, so hey ... that took some time. We may reside in a hammer mill, but we're not running a factory here, man. Unless you count the robots Mitch Macaphee plugs together in the basement. (He's considering establishing an assembly line. Not sure where that's going, exactly.)

Anywho, if you haven't listened to it yet, here's what to expect:

Ned Trek 37 - Return to The Carl. This ludicrous musical episode of our Star Trek parody Ned Trek is based on the classic Trek episode entitled Return to Tomorrow, which had the Enterprise crew come across a dead civilization whose only survivors concealed themselves in glowing orbs and who talked Kirk, Spock, and some random scientist into letting them use their bodies to build android bodies the space aliens could use permanently. The head alien's name was "Sargon". In our version, it's Sagan. The heavy from the planet's "other side" is played by Edward Teller - he occupies Ned's body, then calls everybody "puny". Silliness ensues. Featured songs include:

Light Thing. A doc song, referring to the glowing orb receptacle that held Sagan's consciousness (as opposed to the bubble gum machine that held Teller's). Put your childish things away.

Sagan's Song. Just what it sounds like - a Broadway-like number sung by Carl Sagan in which he lays out his ambitious plan for making the crew of the Free Enterprise smarter than total lunkheads. (Or, failing that, teaching them better table manners.)

Risk Is Your Business. Romney song based on Kirk's heroic monologue from the Star Trek episode we based this on, only cross-pollinated with what unconsciously approaches a Marxist critique of capitalism. Oh, and sung in a French accent. Don't ask me why.

Congratulations. Sung by the Nixon android, this touches on the usual Nixonian tropes of resentment, bitterness, self-aggrandizement, etc. Sixties-style "na-na-na" singalong thrown in for good measure.

Here's what we got for you, folks!Teller. A literally incendiary musical rant sung in the voice of Edward Teller while in Ned's body. Think of it as a love sonnet to the H-bomb. Super.

The Other Side. Perle sings this perky little number about all the advantages of trading with the other side, whatever side that may be.

Fat Captain. A wrenching Sulu song about how Shatner soaked up the limelight at his expense back in the day. Based on a true story or two.

Blow The Man Down. Show-ender by Sagan, mopping up after the mess made during the preceding 90 minutes of ridiculousness. A song of grateful resignation. And yes, you get to hear Carl Sagan singing "dum dum-de-doo." You're welcome.

Put The Phone Down. Our typical impromptu back-and-forth gab session starts with a rough rendition of "All Saints Come", a song off of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas. It goes downhill from there. Just give it a listen, you'll see.

Opposite day.

Trump finally did something constructive - met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - and the chorus of protest is deafening. I'm not a deep-state conspiracy theorist, but that broad consensus around our imperial foreign policy does not look favorably upon this development. Readers of this blog may recall that I have occasionally wondered aloud (or in html text) whether there are deeper motivations behind this 70-year-old war that never ends. The U.S. relationship with South Korea is one part alliance and perhaps two parts lord/serf. That second component became more evident when Trump announced that there would be no more "war games" - just the use of that term alone exploded heads throughout the talk-show tele-verse.

Right, but still a total dickAs Bruce Cumings and others have pointed out for many years, the South Korean military is essentially under the command of U.S. generals. That is, in the event of a war, South Korean commanders would take orders directly from our military. Add to that the fact that the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea have technically been in a state of war since 1950, and you have a sense of how this works. Think about it - what does it say about South Korea's sovereignty that they are not in control of their military? Recall, too, that the country was under the rule of generals and assorted dictators into the 1980s, all backed by the U.S. So when a president threatens the sanctity of "military exercises", essentially admitting that they are, in fact, war games and, as such, "provocative," as Trump accurately described them, national security reporters and consultants on every network start spinning like crazy.

In all honesty, Trump is a disaster in practically every respect. But his ideology is simply himself. Absent imperial designs, the Korea problem has always been a relatively easy one to solve, given the right conditions - namely, sane leadership in South Korea like Moon Jae-in. The North has always, always wanted direct talks with the United States. Their nuclear weapons program was obviously an attempt to build a credible deterrent to a preeminent military power that literally laid waste to their country in the 1950s. All Trump had to do was say yes. Would Obama have done the same thing, given the same conditions? Hard to say. Trump's one advantage is that he's not hide-bound by training and knowledge. In other words, it sometimes takes a dunderhead to see the obvious.

Lest this sound like a praise fest, trust me, I have no illusions about this president. With Bolton and Pompeo at his side, he's probably doing this to free us up for a war with Iran. We're already helping Saudi and the UAE pound the living shit out of Yemen. So, eyes open, this is one good thing in a sea of troubles, and we should encourage our compatriots to see both the benefits and the risks. In other words, tell Democrats, liberal talking heads, etc., not to take the other side just because it's Trump. War in Korea would be an unmitigated disaster - anything that ends that threat is a good thing.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 8, 2018

Going up.

What the hell's that sound? The street sweepers again? Probably a lawn mower. Lawn mowing! What the hell is this neighborhood coming to?

Well, here I am, down in the basement of the Cheney Hammer Mill, tapping away at my keyboard as I often do this time of week. Strange how you can hear everything that's going on outside from down here. Of course, there are probably mouse holes in this place you can drive a front-loader through. Though I have to admit - I myself have never seen a mouse drive a front-loader. It would be one way to defend themselves from those awful snap traps. Diabolical contraptions!

Anyway, summer has kind of arrived here in upstate New York, now that we're on the climate change calendar, so naturally my mind turns to more leisurely pursuits. I know what you're thinking - what on Earth could be more leisurely than being a member of a band that never plays anywhere? Well, you might be surprised by my response to that question. I find all kinds of pointless uses for my time. My illustrious brother Matt, not so much - always doing things, that one. Me? My natural state is at rest. And while I spend most of the year going up the stairs, in the summer I go down them.

This thing's friggin' WRECKED!My summer pass-times usually include deep archive stuff - you know, threading old reel-to-reel tapes onto antiquated and dysfunctional playback machines, just to get a momentary listen in to what they contain. We have a few of those, and many, many audio cassettes with both stereo and four-track content. We also have Hi-8 DAT tapes from our Tascam DA-88 days (the system we used to record our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas) and, of course, standard DAT cassettes. I'm guessing that if you add it all up, it would amount to less content than we've produced in just the last five years, but it may be close. Matt did a lot of recordings in the 80s and 90s - probably hundreds of original songs.

Oh, then of course there's our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN. My guess is that we will be posting the next episode in just a few days, but I'm terrible at predicting things, so I won't say anything. Beyond what I just said. Arrgghh ... I'm no good at this. Should probably be mowing the lawn.

Old glory, old story.

Flag day is next week - as it happens, the very day I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy. (Coincidence?) That said, it has felt like flag month - or even flag year - in this obligatory cheap seat reality show known as the Trump era. Literally must-see t.v., right? This past week we were treated to the hilarious spectacle of our trust-fund baby president with his hand over his heart, faking his way through a martial rendition of God Bless America by what looked like the Marine band. (Bad Lip Reading did a good version of this.) The occasion was Trump's decision to un-invite the Philadelphia Eagles over the National Anthem "take-a-knee" controversy, which he exploits as a means of race-baiting and working up his bigoted base.

Stand beside her ... This transparent political ploy prompted some complaints among talking heads that this was in some way unprecedented. Nothing could be further from the truth. The national anthem, the flag, all of these superficial patriotic symbols have been used for political purposes pretty much my entire life through. Nixon rolled out the flag all the time, as did Reagan. The now-sainted George H.W. Bush made the pledge of allegiance a kind of litmus test for patriotism during the 1988 election. And protests like flag-burning become a major culture-war issue from time to time, particularly when the Republicans are in power and they have little else to complain about (because they're getting their way).

So aside from being a far more transparently pathetic pantomime, there's nothing unprecedented about a president demagoging the flag, the national anthem, etc. Trump is just talking to that 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. population that would follow him off a cliff and then back up the mountain again. He may be a big, greasy, over-privileged ball of shit, but to them he represents the very embodiment of white aggrievement. The bulk of his followers - not all working class by a long shot, by the way - respond to this kind of symbolism as well as his complementary attacks on people of color, with particular attention to those who attain some level of status (like professional athletes).

Reality television has taken over the Republic - that's kind of new. But speaking as someone who has lived through the Nixon administration, the Iran hostage crisis, 9/11, and more, wrapping abusive politics in the flag is anything but.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 1, 2018

Dictating machine.

Hmmmm.... damn thing won't upload. Stupid internets! Marvin - are you on the phone again? You're supposed to wait until I'm done using the web. Stupid phone!

Man, I'll tell you - it's not easy living in an abandoned hammer mill. None of the familiar modern conveniences of American life. No wi-fi, no broadband, no blender, no dry ice ... I could go on. But we're used to that sort of thing. As you know, Big Green has always flown pretty low to the ground. That's why so many of our contemporaries have become famous while we remain in the alt-pop toilet. When we go low, they go high. It's like a freaking see-saw. (Did you see what I saw?)

Anyhow, people like us, we learn to do without. When Matt and I were piecing together the first iteration of this band, back in the late seventies / early eighties, we had the cheapest equipment any band ever thought of using. Our PA speakers sounded like kazoos. Our guitar and keyboard amps were underpowered and flaccid. Even worse, we never had anything decent to record on. One stereo reel-to-reel deck followed us around for a while, but it was of little use beyond serving as a tape echo. A friend of our early eighties drummer, Phil Ross, gave us his old dictaphone mono take deck, which we used to record demos of songs we might take into the studio if we could get the scratch together (which we did, eventually).

Yeah, that's the shit.It took a couple of years, but at some point we moved up to a Panasonic audio cassette deck, the kind that you would use in a home stereo system. We used that and a couple of mics to record ourselves playing in the living room, etc. (Excerpts of those sessions made it on to Matt's very early compilation, "The Todd Family Chronicles".) Matt got a second deck and started bouncing tracks, overdubbing, then around 1985 he bought his first cassette portastudio. That kind of took us to a different place musically, though where that place is, I'm not entirely certain. As we could, we got better gear, but our songwriting and recording process has remained about the same as it was with that first portastudio.

Now we record like everybody else does - on a freaking computer. Fact is, a depiction of pretty much any profession now looks like somebody sitting at a freaking computer.

Descent of man.

When I was about 14, I got obsessed with books of various descriptions and started ordering volumes practically at random from overstock houses like Publisher's Central Bureau and others. One of the mail-order books I pored over was an oversized tome titled Prop Art, which I still have in the bookcase in my office. It's an illustrated history of propaganda posters from the late nineteenth Century up until the 1970s, and some of the most memorable iclasllustrations were those of pseudo-scientific racist posters and handbills from one of the neo-NAZI stormtrooper organizations in the 1960s. One sickening example presented a comparison between a black person and a gorilla, arguing feature-by-caricatured-feature that the two were very similar and that the "Races are definitely NOT equal".

Could've seen THAT coming.I thought of that poster this week when the Rosanne Barr story broke. I will admit that I was never among her fans, but I like to think that fandom would not have kept me from despising her when she started hurling racist epithets. The fact is, that did not start this past week. Since her hey-day in the 1980s-90s, apparently Barr has been careening to the right, adopting and promoting bizarre-ass conspiracy theories, endorsing an increasingly more militarist and oppressive Israeli government, race baiting black women and Muslims, and so on. Clearly, ABC - which has garnered a lot of pundit credit for having fired Barr so quickly - never should have hired her in the first place. But then again, they are in business to make money, right?

We may as well face it - when it comes to the major media content corporations, the bottom line is the bottom line. ABC had a big hit on their hands with Barr, until she, quite predictably, shit all over it by letting her bigoted freak flag fly. They probably made some of the money they were planning on making. NBC did the same thing with Donald Trump. As Lawrence O'Donnell has pointed out, NBC made Trump's bones as a reality television star, kept him on the air through his racist "birther" campaign against Obama, and ran his election rallies from end-to-end during the campaign. That, more than anything, made that bigot president. But it also made NBC money. And as that CBS chief executive said after the election, it may be bad for the country but it's good for the corporation.

So I guess some congratulations should go to our corporate media for propelling the descent of man that is the Trump era. Nice work, folks.

luv u,

jp

Friday, May 25, 2018

Record plant.

Is that where the part comes in? Doesn't seem right, but ... okay. Just can't trust my ears. Not after Cowboy Scat, our last million seller. (We've got a million in our cellar.)

Hello, Big Greeniacs. We're hip-deep in mixing, as you might have guessed. This batch of songs, composed and recorded for the next episode of Ned Trek, is proving to be both challenging and time-consuming. What the hell, we've been working on these songs since January, and now it's ... what ... May? Really? I should get out more. Anyway ... we've been at it a long time. This better be good.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - we have recorded enough songs since the release of Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick to make three new albums, with some left over for party favors. After we've finished these six or seven songs, I'm sure we'll be nudging 70 recordings over five years. We don't have much trouble coming up with new material. Monetizing it? That's another issue.

Got a little job for you.Let's face it ... we're crappy capitalists. (Or crapitalists, if you will.) Matt has no interest in money or notoriety. As for me, well, I couldn't sell songs to my mother ... and I did ask nicely. In a world that measures quality in terms of the price the product commands, we strain to reach the lowest rung. Our production quality is commensurate with the resources available to us. (i.e., we're not recording at Big Blue North, even though it's right up the freaking street.) We are evolving in that respect, but like Issa's snail, slowly ... slowly.

Hell, we can't even afford proper production assistants. When Big Green needs craft services, we're reduced to asking Marvin (my personal robot assistant) to carry in a pitcher of tap water and some paper cups. When we try to market or even give away our discs, we either toss them into the street in front of the mill or hang them on the branches of the mansized tuber. (That's why the neighbors have taken to calling him "the record plant.")

Okay, well, I have some mixing to do. We're having biscuits tonight. After that, I'll do more mixing ... of cement for the front walkway. There's something I'm leaving out, but I'm sure it will come to me.

In his image.

Apparently, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has a book out, and this past Tuesday night, while talking with Rachel Maddow about the book and the Russia probe, he opined that Russian government interference was very likely enough to tip the 2016 election to Trump. Now, it's possible that he's drawing on some still-secret information, but based on what we know, I doubt it had that profound an effect. It was one element among many that took Hillary Clinton down, not least of which was the candidate herself. So it certainly contributed to the Trump victory, whether or not that was their intention.

Project or amusement? Maybe both.I have to think that, within the confines of their fondest fevered dreams, Putin and his allies may think the United States would be easier to deal with if our form of government was more like theirs - namely, a relatively bald-faced oligopoly. Trump brings us a hell of a lot closer to that anti-ideal than we have been in decades. He is acting in a dictatorial fashion, treating the Justice Department like it was his own personal legal team. He is denigrating the FBI in a way that would make a sixties radical (or throw-back, like me) blush. He is cutting deals with foreign governments and the centers of private wealth that give them their marching orders, all to enhance the Trump brand and fill its coffers. There's nothing in this that Putin would find disagreeable.

Of course, Putin is a government official and has been one his entire adult life. He may identify his own interests with those of the nation, but he does think about the Russian national interest if only out of concern for his political well-being. He may want to make Russia stronger in the particular way in which he understands strength, but it is a desire that is somewhat distinct from his devotion to his own personal self-interest. That's where Trump diverges from the Putin model. Trump has no governmental experience, no history of dedication to anything larger than himself. In his mind, there IS nothing larger than himself. That's why he is so transparently trashing our government institutions, our constitutional norms, our collective fill-in-the-blank ... it is simply not his concern at all.

Did Putin want Trump to be president? Who knows. I'm guessing he didn't want Hillary to be president. The more salient question: is Putin happy with the results of the 2016 election? Maybe on a personal level, but as a national leader, I have to think he waivers between joy and panic. Trump is a four-foot drunk with a ten-foot gun and there's no predicting where he's going to point that thing next. So, Vlad .... be careful what you wish for.

luv u,

jp

Friday, May 18, 2018

Near hit.

Okay, I'm going down into the basement. Anyone care to join me? No? Right ... off I go, then. If anything dramatic happens while I'm down there, be sure to let me know.

Hello, friend(s) of Big Green. Yes, I'm trying to push the envelope a little bit here. The mail carrier doesn't like to get to close to this place (in that it's an abandoned mill), so whenever I mail something, I have to push the envelope down the walk to the curb. Also, we've just recorded something like half a dozen songs and someone ... someone has to mix them. Even though that means cloistering myself away in a dank and musty basement, churning out the mixes and probably missing that monumental event that's scheduled for the coming week: namely, the asteroid fly-by or "near miss".

I put that in scare quotes because, as George Carlin pointed out years ago, what people call a near miss should really be called a near-hit. Semantics aside, I just want to re-emphasize here that THERE'S AN ASTEROID HEADING TOWARDS THE EARTH!!! Am I panicking? Well, I wouldn't call this state of mind "panic" - it's not shrill enough. It's more a kind of agitation ... the kind you get when an asteroid grazes your exosphere and puts a scare into your large natural satellite. Am I scared? No more than the man in the moon.

It's close. TOO close.It had occurred to a few of us that we should take the opportunity of this asteroid fly-by to gather some important data on this mysterious visitor from deep space - data that could provide answers to vital questions like, "what color is it?" and "is there a Starbucks there yet?" How would we go about this? Well, we have Marvin (my personal robot assistant). And we have Mitch Macaphee's model volcano. If we put one in to the other at the right moment, there's a moderate chance that item A (Marvin) could reach escape velocity and, maybe, navigate his way to the asteroid. And when I say "moderate", I mean a degree of probability that is, perhaps, calculable if and only if we were willing to make the effort to calculate it. And, well ... we're not. So, Marvin? GET IN THAT VOLCANO!

Okay, so ... before you think less of me, remember that Marvin does not need air to survive, nor gravity, nor food or water. He is an automaton. That said, he doesn't much care for outer space. And in light of the fact that he's nowhere to be found, he's not too fond of volcanoes, either.

The Bolton effect

Well, it has taken, what ... two weeks? Two weeks for Bolton to blow up not only the Iran deal but the nascent detente with North Korea as well. Quite an accomplishment, but then he is the same John Bolton that helped lie us into Iraq and provoke an earlier standoff with Iran and North Korea, back in his Bush 43 days. And while I hate to give the man too much credit for being relevant, Kim Jong Un did call him out by name in that communique, citing Bolton's comments about disarming North Korea along the same lines as what the U.S. did with Libya. Now, I have to think Bolton knew what effect his words would have. I doubt that he would have believed the North Koreans would think that a positive comparison. (Clearly, they did not).

Dead wrong ... for different reasonsBolton appears to have leveraged the fact that our credibility is shot in order to foment this crisis. The world doesn't need reminding that in Libya, we talked Qaddafi out of his nuclear arsenal, then supported an uprising against him that ended with this murder. They don't need reminding that both Iraq and Afghanistan, non nuclear states, were both invaded by us and are still under the partial control of our military. So, they know that we are liable to attack if you don't have nuclear weapons ... or if the U.S. manages to talk you into relinquishing your arsenal. What lessons would you draw from this kind of behavior?

Not that Bolton alone has brought us to this point. Trump's big mouth, apparently, played some role. Kim Jong Un, it appears, watches American television (or has people do that for him) and was able to hear Trump bragging about his initiative regarding Korea, boasting that no other president had done what he had done, soaking in the calls for a Nobel prize. But this Trumpian noise is not rooted in any ideology aside from Trump's own cult of personality. Bolton, on the other hand, has an ideological foundation, not as a neocon, but more as an old-style imperial interventionist who disdains international institutions as irrelevant and values overwhelming American power over all else. He represents a deeply rooted mindset in our foreign and military policy establishment, and people like Bolton can use Trump to further their ends. They may have to pick their fights a little carefully, but that shouldn't be a problem for an old hand like Mr. Mustache.

Hey, people - we knew it was going to be bad. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better. Just push for peace ... that's all we can do.

60 Dead in Gaza. What a disgusting spectacle this week has been - Trump's spawn celebrating the new American embassy in Jerusalem while IDF snipers pick off protesters at the Gaza border with deadly precision. More on this later. Again ... worse before it gets better.

luv u,

jp

Friday, May 11, 2018

Magma cum laude.

Some people count to ten when they're angry. Others resort to a punching bag or maybe a mattress stood up against the wall. I've known people to shut themselves in a closet and scream bloody murder. But THIS ... THIS is outrageous.

Remind me, next time I start a band, don't ... repeat, don't have a mad science advisor. Sure, they can help you out in a pinch, like that time we needed to get to that gig on Neptune and our van had broken down. Or that other time when I needed a personal robot assistant. Thing is, they are so freaking mercurial. (In Mitch Macaphee's case, I think the reason for that may be that he just spent way too much time on the planet Mercury.) And when the act out, it can have profound consequences.

I've never even come close to being a scientist, but when I was a kid - like most American kids - I built a plaster volcano. Pretty sure Mitch did so when he was young, only his little 'cano burned down his elementary school and his mates had to spend the rest of the semester attending class in a cornfield. Well ... Mitch is at it again, apparently THIS time setting his sites on the Big Island in Hawaii. How do I know he's the cause of the recent eruptions? Just have a feeling, that's all. He's been spending an awful lot of time in that lab of his. And I've been hearing a lot of rumbling just lately.

I always get a little nervous when Mitch starts messing around with plate tectonics. It recalls to my mind the protagonist in Matt's song "Why Not Call It George?" - himself a kind of mad scientist, tinkering with the inner workings of our unruly little planet:

Is that thing loaded?Continental drift can be reversed
Great tumblers shift
And Pangaea can be reclaimed  
After me it can be renamed  
Why not call it George?  
Call it George, after me

While we don't have a lot of tectonic activity in our neighborhood, it does get a little shaky once in a long while. And with Mitch Macaphee still pissed off about those NASA shots of Jupiter, I wouldn't be surprised if those tremors get a little closer together. We might even wake up to aggravated volcanism, and I don't mean the plaster variety. (Note to self: order those fireproof goulashes.)

Consequences had.

Elections have consequences, as they say, and few weeks have provided better evidence of that nostrum than this past one. The pullout from the Iran deal (JCPOA) is the most obvious example. Trump has been threatening this since his first Nuremberg rally on the campaign trail two years ago, and he made good on the threat, shredding what was the positive centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy legacy (the negative one being Libya). It feels very much like this is simple get back on Trump's part - there's no way in hell that he ever read even the preamble of the JCPOA; his drive to kill the deal was part of his determination to undo the previous eight years, and he put another nail in that coffin this week.

Trump signs off on another delusion.The Sharpie ink was barely dry on Trump's memorandum to leave the JCPOA before Israel began threatening more action against Iran and Syria. Just the previous week, an official had threatened a decapitation raid on Syria if Assad would not stop hosting Iranians. Now they are firing missiles at "Iranian" targets in Syria supposedly to protect Israelis in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. The Trump administration, of course, is reflexively supporting Israel in this, but it's obvious what's happening here. Netanyahu and his allies are turning up the heat on Iran in order to provoke a larger than usual response; this in the hopes of triggering a sizable American military attack on Iranian forces in Syria or on Iran itself.

Now that all of the pieces of this toxic policy are in place, the situation is deteriorating quite rapidly. Make no mistake - Trump has zero understanding of the geopolitical or regional issues surrounding the JCPOA. His determination to destroy the deal can be summed up in three words: Obama made it. Like the five-year-old he truly is, he is trying - and largely succeeding - to jump up and down on everything his predecessor accomplished over the previous eight years. But the people around Trump - Bolton, Pompeo, Haley, and others - are more ideologically driven on this issue. They are, in essence, driving Trump around like a little tin car. They have the same destination in view, but for different reasons - conflict and perhaps an effort towards regime change in Iran.

The question facing us now is, are we as a nation willing to go there? If we are not, then we need to stand up now and make our voices heard. We need to elect members of Congress who will work to prevent this odious war plan. And we need to do it before it's too late.

luv u,

jp

Friday, May 4, 2018

Big marble.

No, I haven't seen your camera. Or your enlarger. What the hell do I look like, a custodian? For crying out loud - if I were a custodian, I would be retired by now on a decent state pension ... instead of cooped up in this drafty squat house with a mad-man inventor who can't find his freaking camera.

Oh, hello. You've just caught me in the middle of a small dispute with one of the members of Big Green's retinue. As I am the very soul of discretion, I will refrain from saying which one ... Mitch Macaphee. (I didn't say it, I typed it.) Suffice it to say we have our share of disagreements, and it's usually over stupid shit. Last week it was some old piece of quartz he had mistakenly left at the local watering hole. By the way he was carrying on, you would have thought it was the only quartz in the world. And I can assure you ... there is more quartz out there ... more than you ever dreamed of.

Now - this week - Mitch is cheesed off over some photographs he saw on the Internet (though why he wastes his time surfing the web is beyond me ... that thing is never going to amount to anything). NASA just posted some shots of Jupiter from the Juno spacecraft that make the planet look like a giant marble or close detail of a Nice brushwork.Van Gogh painting. Mitch got a little overwrought when he saw them. He claims that they were photos he took on our last interstellar tour. He started pacing up and down the corridor, grousing about how NASA is always using his material without compensation or attribution. Then he disappeared into his laboratory.

We all hope he's just sulking in there. I sent Marvin (my personal robot assistant) in to check on Mitch; he returned with some kind of electronic device attached to his torso. It has flashing lights and makes an odd, whirring sound. Not sure whether or not it's having an effect on Marvin - he seems to act normally, though I did notice that he now eats corn-on-the-cob on a vertical axis. Could be a coincidence. People change, right? So, too, of robots.

Okay, well ... we're trying not to let the strange sounds emanating from Mitch's laboratory distract us from our primary task: that of making strange sounds emanate from our recording studio.

Behind us all the way.

Apparently Bibi Netanyahu really, really wants us to start a war with Iran. That's the ultimate goal of his little English-language TED talk this past week. As a piece of warmonger propaganda, it was pretty unconvincing, particularly in the post-Iraq war era, so it seems reasonable to assume that he was performing for an audience of one: that one named Trump. Iran lied, says Bibi, so Trump should tear up the JCPOA; tearing up the JCPOA means an end to diplomatic solutions, which means, ultimately, war.

Sage advice from our "friends"It's a war that Bibi doesn't want to fight, and with good reason. Sure, they have undeclared nuclear weapons - hundreds of them - but those are pretty much useless beyond their value as an end-of-the-world threat. The fact is, Israel can't win a conventional war with Iran, and they know it. Iran would be a difficult adversary, as well as a vast territory to subdue and occupy - it has "strategic depth", as Col. Lawrence Wilkerson has pointed out. But honestly, when was the last time Israel won an actual war? 1973? Don't say Lebanon - sure, they drove the PLO out of Beirut (at an enormous cost to the population), but by no means did that end positively for them. Their armed forces have suffered from too much colonial population control - thugging the Palestinians, in essence. But they still want to overthrow the Iranian regime. That's where we come in.

Bibi and his allies are happy to expend our blood and treasure on an insane war against Iran. Same with Mohammed Bin Salman (or "MBS" as our press affectionately calls him). He very much wants us to neutralize Iran, just as they were supportive of Saddam Hussein when he launched his eight-year war on Iran that ended in a bitter stalemate. You can see him and Bibi sitting in the stands, sharing the same muffler, cheering us on as we take to the field of battle. They'll be behind us all the way (about five hundred miles behind us). While not formally allies, Saudi and Israel go way back. Israel did the oil kingdom a solid when they destroyed Nassar's army in 1967. (Mohammed Bin Salman's progenitors had been engaged in a regional struggle against Arab nationalism for a number of years as it was a direct threat to their illegitimate existence as autocratic rulers.)

Is the JCPOA flawed? Only inasmuch as it's somewhat unfair to the Iranians. As long as Israel maintains a massive nuclear arsenal, there will be a strong incentive for them to develop a deterrent. That's the inescapable logic of the nuclear age, whether or not you own up to your H-bombs. That said, the JCPOA is acceptable to Tehran and the rest of the world, so it should stand ... regardless of what our "friends" want us to do.

luv u,

jp

Friday, April 27, 2018

Thumbs sideways.

Hello, this is central control. Central control to Marvin (my personal robot assistant). Do you copy, Marvin? Of course not. Who on Earth would copy Marvin?

Well, I seem to have the mill to myself today. The place is as quiet as a grave, albeit a very drafty one. Dank, too ... or maybe the word is acrid. Musty ... that's what I'm looking for. Anyway, everyone seems to have taken the week off. I hear it's spring break week for the kiddies at all the local schools, so maybe my various associates all have secret lives involving school age children and tickets to Disney World. Can't say for certain - Anti Lincoln has been looking a little extra suburban just lately.

For my own part, I have filled my time with something very unproductive - watching TV. I binge watched all ten episodes of the new Lost In Space reboot, and I think I'm ready for some kind of high tech media purge. Since I have no self-control and even less in the way of formal responsibilities, I will take this opportunity to render a brief review for your edification. Ahem ... it doesn't entirely blow, but there are aspects of it that do. Fun to watch, but it has some issues that are not unlike the original, super-campy TV show. Let me 'splain. First I'll put my T.V. critic hat on. You know, the one that makes you mean and nasty.

Was it THAT bad, really?First off, the basic premise of the Lost In Space reboot is, if anything, weaker than the original. They land on the planet Colorado, it appears. Mind you, they have reconfigured some of the plot devices used in the original, so the alien world has an eccentric elliptical orbit that brings it waaaaay too close to a black hole (in the original, it was the planet's sun) causing everything to burn to a crisp. They aren't clear on what the annual cycle is, but I assume it's short since they seem to be heading for the hot spot of the orbit. So ... they're saying that everything on the planet dies and is reborn, but we're seeing massive, mature stands of forest, complex animal life, including apex predators ... what the hell? A random scientist on the show tells us the trees have only one ring. They're eighty feet tall! Ridiculous.

Then there's that robot. For chrissake, they could have just rented Marvin from me for a few weeks. We could have used the revenue, frankly. And instead of re-orchestrating the original third-season heavy-on-the-french-horns theme song, we would have been glad to provide them with suitable space music. Not a problem, producers ... all you got to do is call.

Bottom line: it's kind of meh, but watchable. Well, is that the time? Thanks for taking that detour with me. Tune in next week - I'll be reviewing Father Ted.

Persian rug.

Trump and Macron had their meeting of the tiny minds this last week, and it doesn't look good for the Iran nuclear deal (a.k.a. the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - JCPOA). The French president appears to think he can save it by expanding it, but that's not likely to happen; Iran may be less than a democracy, but its leaders have constituencies just the same as ours do, and I can't think the Iranian people are going to be willing to trust this process a second time - not when they've checked every box, met every requirement, and continued to suffer as Trump calls them every name in the book and hires a National Security Advisor who gave a regime change address to the terrorist MEK last year.

There are also the other parties to the agreement to consider, two of whom (Russia and China) are adamant against changing the deal. As Juan Cole has pointed out, the Russians are calling bullshit on Trump's vacuous claim that the U.S. gave Iran $150 billion as a kind of signing bonus. I heard some cat calls about this on Facebook when the deal was struck, and it's frankly laughable. These were Iranian assets in U.S. banks, unilaterally frozen by the U.S. government as punishment for stepping out of line. Whatever you may think of the government of Iran, any capitalist should understand that they have every right to that money. (Good luck finding that kind of capitalist in Washington D.C.)

The unknown countryIt's not hard to see why Trump is on the same page as practically every political leader in America in treating Iran like a muck room rug. Israel wants us to attack them. Saudi wants us to attack them. The UAE wants us to attack them. And the majority of Americans are under the spell of the propaganda campaign about the incomparable evils of Iran. We've been fed this with a fire hose since the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the "hostage crisis" - basically my entire adult life. It has been reinforced over the intervening decades, through the Iran-Iraq war years (recall the "hostages" in Lebanon), the confrontations in the 90s, their inclusion in the "Axis of Evil", and so on. Trump is a product of the same smear campaign.

Scuttling this deal will likely make the current confrontation with Russia deteriorate even further. Worse than that, it sets us on a short path to the war John Bolton has wanted practically forever. That war would make the Iraq conflict seem like a folk dance, and could easily trigger a response from other world powers.

In short, let's keep the JCPOA. If it's a bad deal, it's only bad for the Iranians. It gives us way more than we deserve.

Peace in Korea? Just a brief coda - I'm very hopeful about the prospect for peace on the Korean peninsula. When the dust settles a bit, I'll return to this very important question.

luv u,

jp

Friday, April 20, 2018

Theme park.

That's it, Lincoln. I'm tired of your get-rich-quick schemes. They always end up with trouble. Like that "Civil War" idea you had once. How did THAT turn out?

Damn, I'll tell you ... sometimes I feel like a walking suggestion box. Every time I turn a corner in this cavernous abandoned hammer mill, someone starts pitching ideas to me about what we can do to generate income, filthy lucre, serious bank. Capitalists! All they ever think about is their money. What about MY money? When the hell is someone going to build an economic theory around THAT? If I hear one more hare-brained scheme about starting a theme park based on the history of hammer manufacturing in North America, I'm going to move to another kind of abandoned mill entirely.

That said, this place really would lend itself to being a kind of theme park. They could do a kind of Gaslight Village or something equally fourth-rate - the vintage is about right, construction wise. Or it could be a life-scale model of an early 20th Century factory town, with plastic manikins and some kind of conveyor belt ride that drops you into a vat of molten nickel. (And it would only cost a nickel!) They could have a whole separate section in the courtyard called "Strike Land" where you can walk in circles holding signs that say, "Day's Work For A Day's Pay" and "Enough is Enough". Then half-trained actors dressed as Pinkertons file in and beat the crap out of you. Hey ... it's educational!

Well, maybe NOT like gaslight village.Of course, why should we limit ourselves to the most obvious options? Hell, you could do anything in this barn. Just hang a sign over the front door that reads "Lost in Space Land" and you've got a theme park fit for the Robinson Family. Marvin (my personal robot assistant) could take tickets at the door, and Anti-Lincoln could pose as Professor John Robinson, so long as people aren't expecting the stubble-bearded military dude in the current reboot. So what if John looks like Lincoln? He was modeled on Kennedy ... isn't that close enough?

There I go. Will you just look at me? I'm doing the very thing I admonished my colleagues not to do. I guess now THEY'LL have to find another kind of mill.

Long division.

Some good news (or at least not bad news): The U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria obviously haven't led to a terminal nuclear conflict; not yet, anyway. That said, this was another loathsome destructive exercise by three imperial powers intent on maintaining at least symbolic dominance over their erstwhile colonial possessions. We've heard all the flimsy justifications for this action - the need to enforce the prohibition on use of chemical weapons, the need to alleviate the suffering of innocents, etc. None of it holds any water.

While it's good that a class of weapons is at least nominally banned, it's hard to see a substantive difference between gassing people and blowing their legs off, or piercing their skulls with fragments of depleted uranium shell casings, or dropping white phosphorus on them, or enforcing a medieval siege that results in more than a million contracting cholera (i.e. biological warfare). And if Trump, May, and Macron are concerned with the suffering of innocents, they can start addressing it by not supporting Saudi war crimes in Yemen or Israeli executions of Palestinian protestors. Then there's the legal question. I can't speak for Britain or France, but Trump has no legal authorization to attack the government of Syria. It appears as though their argument on this issue is might makes right; that's transparently illegitimate.

The result when every power pursues their own interests.Restraining a Trump administration powered by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo is going to be difficult. It isn't made any easier by internal divisions evident on the left. Clearly we don't need to agree on everything to agree that American intervention in Syria is a bad idea and shouldn't be done. There's a natural tendency to turn conflicts of this type into a kind of zero-sum game between bad players and good players; this is not unique to the left, obviously. There are people on the left who support the rebellion in Syria and those who think it's populated entirely by terrorists. Likewise, I've heard leftists essentially align themselves with the Assad regime and others call for its overthrow.

There are bad players on all sides of this conflict, obviously, and every power is pursuing their own interests. I don't have to agree with Assad's rapacious military assaults to agree that we shouldn't attack his government, largely because American intervention has such a bloody history. (I would say it always fails, but that would entail the assumption that our military policies are intended to do our victims some good ... which is never the case.) I've never been a fan of Vladimir Putin, but I understand Russia's decision to intervene in the wake of previous regime-change efforts on the part of the U.S., all of which have resulted in failed states, hundreds of thousands of dead, and worsening political turmoil. I haven't seen convincing evidence one way or the other with respect to who used chemical weapons two weeks ago, but the question is irrelevant - the solution to this conflict does not involve American military force. Period.

If the left (and center-left) can coalesce around the basic principle of non-intervention, grounded in solid legal, moral, and historical arguments, we will have a better chance at holding off the Bolton-Trump assault on the Middle East.

luv u,

jp

Friday, April 13, 2018

Old stock.

Damn, I always forget how big this place is. Who the hell knew all this junk was in here? I didn't. Maybe Mitch knew, but he's in Sao Paolo, noodling around with deadly lasers and the like.

Hi, everyone. Yeah, we're stumbling upon all kinds of trash/treasure, now that the local realtors have us on our toes. They held an open house here last Sunday, for chrissake. What's next? Shooting an episode of House Hunters in the courtyard? I mean ... is anyone going to want to open a store in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill?

Anyway, back to our find. There's this little room on the east side of the building. We pulled the lock off with a crowbar and found all these old hammer handles. It looked like Lester Maddox's closet. (Ask your mother.) That got me thinking: If we could sell the handles, we could pay rent on this place. Then I realized how stupid that idea is. Now, well ... I'm fresh out of ideas on how to stay in this squat house without opening a boutique of some kind. Maybe we can get Mitch Macaphee to make decorative candles in his lab. (Preferably the kind that don't explode.)

Looks like this side of the mill needs a lttle TLCWe could sell old stock out of said boutique. We've got hammer handles. There's also a bunch of old music lying around in various forms. We could sell CDs, but since we only have three full-length releases and a couple of EPs, that would make us a bit like the Scotch Boutique on 70s era Saturday Night Live. (Ask YouTube ... or your mother.) I keep digging up old recordings from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. If people still recorded on cassettes, we could just tape over the tabs and sell those. (Ask your ... oh, never mind.)

Okay, so we're lousy capitalists. What's new? When I come up with something you're likely to pay money for, I'll let you know.

Speaking of old stock, we just dropped another installment of our occasional Ned Trek podcast. It's another Ned episode knifed out of THIS IS BIG GREEN from a couple of years back - Ned Trek 25: Not The Children One, Please!

Minutes to midnight.

After a week like the one we've had, I feel like I have to write this quickly. We are literally on the brink of a major power conflict brewing in Syria, and it's hard to see how it can effectively be prevented. An apparent chemical attack has, once again, triggered the Pavlovian imperial response from Washington - namely that no problem can't be solved by dropping high explosives on it. The trouble is that the Syrian conflict is so complicated, with major regional and global powers backing different factions in pursuit of their own narrow interests (and civilians be damned). So while the Trump cabal claims to want to strike at Bashir Al Assad's government, they can hardly do so without hitting Russian personnel.

Mr. Atomic Clock himselfThreats are being exchanged, partly via Twitter, and this is becoming a very volatile situation. A situation like this makes clear why the Democratic/Liberal approach of blaming everything on Russia is short-sighted and foolish. Trump is now under pressure to be "tougher" on Russia, and it seems he is willing to move in that direction. So in a sense both major political groupings are either pushing for war or indifferent, and that's a dangerous state of affairs, particularly with this venal, unstable, insecure president. Oh, and did I mention that Monday was John Bolton's first day on the job as National Security Advisor? Jesus.

Earlier this year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand on their doomsday clock to 2 minutes before midnight - the nearest their estimate of risk has come to nuclear Armageddon since 1953. I think they are on to something. President drunk uncle bigot, the Twitter troll, is a crack head, but what he does in his evident dementia is demonstrate how out of control presidential power has become. The power to destroy the world should not be in the hands of the president. I would argue it should be in no one's hands, but so long as the capability exists, it should be subject to extensive review by more than one branch of government. The more people involved in this process the better. After all, we're talking about blowing up the whole planet - we should require our war-hungry leaders to keep asking different people until they find someone sane enough to say "no".

I hope I am just being alarmist about this. All I can say is that, whatever happens in the next week or two, it's going to be a long, painful three years.

luv u,

jp

Friday, April 6, 2018

Monetizing sloth.

Leave me alone, Charles. Can't you see I'm trying to sleep? It's obvious, for chrissake ... I just called you Charles, and I don't even know anyone by that name. So I must be effing sleeping, right? Charles?

Oh, hi. Fell asleep in my cozy broom closet. We are still in our highly restricted corners of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill as local venture capitalists eye the joint from stem to stern to see if it has any potential to make them serious bank. (I think there are more opportunities in the stem than in the stern, but I'll let them find that out for themselves.) It's like they have glass heads; I can see them picturing some knitting basket of a store, maybe a Hickory Farms ... if such a thing still exists. (I remember stealing samples there as a kid. Strange, because I wasn't even hungry ... still, it was a good find.)

So, yeah ... they'll probably sweep us out of here like yesterday's floor scum in a few months. Unless, that is, we come up with some cash ... or Mitch Macaphee comes up with some kind of diabolical invention that will hold them at bay. Maybe a time-warp generator. Maybe a force field. (Even a little, teensy-weensy force field would help.) Maybe a great invisible ruler we can use to whack the invisible hand of the marketplace. Just throwing out a few ideas here. Are you listening, Mitch? Mitch??

A potential buyer visits.Oh, damn ... that's right. Mitch is off to Sao Paolo to attend the bi-annual convention of the International Society for the Purveyors of Mad Science (or ISPMS). I believe they're giving him some sort of badge this year. (Not sure what it's for, but it suspiciously glows in the dark.) In any case, we can't rely on Mitch to keep the capitalist wolf pack at bay here at our besieged hammer mill squat house. We could have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) go out there and try to reason with the developers, but that would just make them laugh and point. We could coax Anti-Lincoln (perhaps with the promise of bourbon) to give one of his famous presidential addresses from the mill's parapet, but again ... pointing and laughing would ensue. (He's not good.)

Thankfully, it's a weekend, and I have the option of staying in my broom closet, strumming my unplugged guitar, while the realtor does walk-throughs. "What's that sound?" the punters will ask, and the realtor will say, "Just the wind in the willows."

The other others.

As is his common practice, Trump has been gesticulating wildly this past week, choosing Easter Sunday to crush the hopes of DACA recipients across America (many of whom consider Easter first among holidays), announcing tariffs practically at random, and threatening to send troops to line our southern border (as northbound crossings are at a 46-year low). I seriously doubt the National Guard will be stopping Norwegians at Nogales, so note to all those disgruntled citizens of Oslo who want to leave free healthcare and university-level education behind for a chance to live in the land of the free: don't even think about it!

Trump's segregation showroom.The shit storm is usually a smokescreen, a bit of grimy flash powder to distract most of us from what the administration is actually doing and to excite that grisly some of us who get off on targeting dark people. When the president hammers hard on his core themes, you know he's worried about something. I'm expecting a major attack on Muslims soon - maybe Somali refugees, since they conveniently pull together the various attributes that make for great racist demagoguery: Islam, marked immigration status, dark skin, head scarfs, non-Norwegian sounding names, strange language, etc. He has already singled them out more than once as President, I believe, and certainly during the 2016 campaign.

Much of the raw violence promoted by this administration is being done overseas, both as a function of our military deployments and by virtue of our support for aggressive allies. (This will likely only get worse with the arrival of John Bolton.) We were all treated to a visit by the Saudi prince recently, who likes to be called MBS (perhaps because it makes him sound like a bank). Fortunately he wasn't drowned by all the admiring drool from the Tom Friedmans of the world. Of course, they never discussed the attack on Yemen except in the context of a friendly slap on the back, I'm sure. Then there's the Israelis, who are better than anyone at getting away with killing upwards of 20 protesters, wounding 750 more, and blaming the victims. Numbers like these - in response to a protest, no less - indicate an enhanced sense of license on the part of the Israeli leadership. Donnie has your back, guys.

So we have the "others" that live among us and those other "others" in other countries. We're supposed to be afraid of both, but I'm certain most of us just fear what's going to become of us over the next three years. Nothing good, I'm afraid.

luv u,

jp

Friday, March 30, 2018

Flying circus.

No, damn it, I can't spin a plate on a stick, even if the stick is on my tongue. What the hell do you think I am, a trained seal? This is freaking ridiculous. Get out of my broom closet!

Oh, well ... you can see that this blog isn't driven by our PR people. (This just in: we don't HAVE any of those.) If we knew more about marketing, I might not admit in public that I was having this discussion with Anti-Lincoln, who is just chock full of "good ideas". He piped up with a beauty today: that we should diversify our act a bit more. Not entirely rely on music. Put a few dance steps or maybe a couple of skits in the middle or our sets. Or ... magic tricks.

I'm thinking that we should have someone - maybe Anti-Lincoln - do all that stuff for us. Why the hell not? If we need to diversify our act, I don't want to be any part of it. Anti-Lincoln could be our agent or road manager. He could make Marvin (my personal robot assistant) jump through flaming hoops while we're changing the strings on our various instruments. (Then again, Marvin is our guitar tech, so it would need to be, maybe, Tubey?) I'll tell you, Marvin would have to jump fast, because I can change the strings on my Roland electric piano in no time flat. (That's not why I bought it, though - I bought it because I could lift it without groaning.)

Space for rent at the mill.Why the sudden lurch towards random entrepreneurship? Well, we've been under a bit of pressure as of late. With the economy picking up a bit, suddenly the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill has become a bit more attractive as a commercial location. Local developers are thinking about gutting it and setting up one of those Mill Malls that pop up around here. (Actually, they can spare themselves the bother of that first step - this place was gutted long ago.) So, yeah, we're looking for ways to go legit on this property, maybe even start .... gulp ... paying property taxes .... or even utilities ..... ooooohhhhhh....

Anyway, that's why I'm sleeping in a broom closet. We're ALL sleeping in little spaces now, just to train ourselves for having to share this big barn of a place with people who sell scented candles, overpriced crockery, and weird-ass clothing. (Maybe we can open a used robot store ... )

Our kind of guy.

In as much as it's the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and one of the war's principal architects/apologists is about to become National Security Advisor, I thought this might be a good time to take a look back at to what extent we have fucked the nation of Iraq beyond repair over the past six decades. Jeremy Scahill did a good look back on his podcast, Intercepted (see https://theintercept.com/2018/03/21/us-war-iraq-legacy-of-blood/ ), but there are a few items that I would like to pull out of that broader narrative, much of which I've talked about before, though it bears repeating in the current climate of fear.

CIA target Abdul Karim QasimFirst, we helped the thug/torturer Saddam Hussein from the earliest moment in his career, when in 1959 he made a botched attempt at becoming Iraq's Lee Harvey Oswald, taking a shot at the country's leader Qasim (who had taken power the year before after a coup against King Faisal). Hussein ran to Tikrit, then was spirited away to Beirut, where he lived on the CIA's dime, then to Cairo, where - again - he was a guest of the CIA. Qasim was a nationalist, socialist type, so we were glad to support the Ba'ath party takeover in 1963 and Hussein's subsequent rise to power.

Writing about the 1959 assassination attempt back in 2003, Richard Sale wrote:

According to another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim's office in Iraq's Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim's movements.

Seems our intelligence agencies were always fixing Saddam up with a crash pad. Some years later, by the time of the Iran-Iraq war, the United States got very close with Saddam's regime. Again, Sale:

In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA had enjoyed "close ties" with [the] . . . ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist Baath Party "as its instrument."

This was such a cozy relationship that during the tanker war between Iran and Iraq when the U.S. was re-flagging and escorting Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iraq's mistaken attack against the U.S.S. Stark was essentially dismissed, much like the Liberty in 1967. (I always found it interesting that this fact was not deployed during the run-up to our 2003 invasion. It was simply too complicated a story to tell.)

So ... Saddam Hussein was our kind of thug. Until he disobeyed orders. More on the consequences of that transgression later.

luv u,

jp

Friday, March 23, 2018

Five gets you ten.

Remember those ridiculous glasses with the tiny black lenses? Sure you do. And those dumb ass purple sneakers. They were super easy to find because no one besides me wanted to wear them. (Oh, and you could find them in a dark room. I think they were radioactive.)

No, we haven't converted this into some kind of retro fashion blog. Far from it! We're just playing a game that's gotten kind of popular around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. It's called Five and Ten. You guess what the other players were doing five years ago, then ten years ago, then fifteen, and so on. Every time you guess correctly, you get five points. The person with the most points by the time everyone has walked away in anger is the winner - they then have to go to the local strip mall and open a Five and Ten store. (The game's a little too complicated, in my humble opinion.)

I'm actually no fun to play against in this game, because if you ask me what I was doing five years ago, I would have to say that it's very much the same thing I'm doing right now. Same sort of thing with ten years ago. Now if you say twenty or thirty, I have intelligible answers to that. Twenty? We were working on our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas, and I was starting to think about doing this blog. Okay, so that's MOSTLY like today. No points on that one.

Huh. Old Ben beat me to it.Thirty years ago, I was working for Donald Trump. (Or "Drumph," in the original Norwegian - Trump's family comes from that part of Norway that's called "Germany".) Well, I was a contractor for him in a sense, playing in a band that performed at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. I'm not certain, but I think around this time of year in 1988 I was playing the last of three month-long engagements we had at Trump Plaza, in one of the casino-side lounges, playing pretty horrible covers. My big song on that gig was Benny King's "Stand By Me". (The front person for that group was a singer named Joanna Lee.) At the end of that particular run, I got fired for losing my voice. (Not by Drumph, but by our manager, though admittedly I wasn't very well liked in that establishment. Attitudinal issues, I believe.)

You can read all about my exploits as a low-flying road musician by dropping me a message via the comments form and asking me to tell you all about it. How easy is that? Now excuse me - I have to go open another Five and Dime.