Thursday, September 24, 2009

OT: Relax

And now for something completely different...

When I was running a theater, I used to put "Relax" on the sound system and play it full blast while I was doing my day work. When I took phone calls, the people on the other end thought I must be going deaf or needed to adjust my meds.

I now know that there are lots of different video versions of "Relax", but at the time, I'd only seen one, the one that's posted here (supposedly the banned version, but I don't know who "banned" it.) I thought it was a pretty accurate representation of what our theater was like, day and night. Our S&M Salome was one of the high (or was it low?) points, but there were many others. We did hundreds of productions and staged readings. Not all of which involved leather and the fat man, but some did.

We were infested with "Dogs," as in "Rebellion Dogs," a recovery group whose facilitator was a friend of a friend, a Vietnam Vet and a real character. His charges were characters, too. They took the sobriquet "Dogs" quite literally, forming themselves into packs and running completely wild when they weren't doing their recovery business. ("Rebellion dogs" is from a phrase in Bill W's AA book, something about "rebellion dogs your every effort to end addiction" -- it's a VERB!)

But they did a lot of the backstage work and of course they were very friendly, so I let them have their way most of the time.

Artists of all stripes and kinds became part of our community, some tried to become part of the family. Everything you see in the video is pretty much what was going on pretty much all the time.

Don't ask if I miss it. All I can say is politics is tame by comparison.

(NB: And while I have been around tigers, it was a lion that eventually ran a claw through my thumb while I was trying to extricate a young lady's hand from the lion's mouth. So there we were, the two of us, held fast by the lion wondering what the hell do we do now? Along comes someone with a stick and whacks the lion's cage with it. The lion lets go. Whew!)

(NBB: Holly Johnson was a friend of mine and a friend of the theater. But she wasn't THIS Holly Johnson, with whom it was easy to identify...)

Here We Go Again

As everybody knows, the Teabaggers had -- and for the most part still have -- free rein in this country to upset and disrupt whatever and whomever they want, when and where they want. The police look the other way. They will not and have no intention of interfering, even when the Baggers are overt and threatening.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the authorities are getting ready to protect and defend the G20 reps from any and all discommoding by the DFHs, to crush dissent, to gas, to bludgeon, to mass arrest with abandon.

Read this story:

Massive police buildup for Pittsburgh G20 summit
By Samuel Davidson
24 September 2009

A massive police buildup is well underway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as thousands of police, National Guard, FBI, secret service and other law enforcement officials flood into the city in preparation for the G20 summit Thursday and Friday.

Sixty police departments from across Pennsylvania and the region have sent officers to the city. Pittsburgh officials have not revealed how many have actually come, but the city said it needed 4,000 police to provide security for the two-day event. Pittsburgh’s 900 police officers have been put on 12-hour shifts, and all vacation and leave have been canceled.

In addition to local police, 1,200 Pennsylvania state police and 2,500 National Guard troops have been mobilized and brought into the city.

The White House has declared the summit a National Special Security Event (NSSE), placing security under the control of the US Secret Service. For months, Secret Service agents have been in Pittsburgh planning for the event. Closed circuit television cameras have been placed throughout the city.

A bunker-command center has been set up at an undisclosed location, manned 24 hours a day; agents from the various departments monitor the television screens and coordinate the activities of the law enforcement agencies.

In addition to police, several thousand private security guards have come to the city. Some are providing security for the numerous delegations, while others have been hired by hotels and businesses to provide security.

Pittsburgh has taken on something of the appearance of a city in a war zone. Four-foot-high concrete barriers have been placed in front of most office buildings and on street corners to block off traffic.

And so on and so on and so on.

Let us ask why Americans permit this disparity of the imposition of authority.

How is it that armed and dangerous Teabaggers can do anything they want, anywhere, at any time, and there is no preventative police action at all, but the mere thought of the assembly of a few unarmed DFHs to protest anything, anywhere leads to massive police presence, lockdown, tear gas and batons?

Screwed up much?


One of the favorite figures of speech among bloggers and commenters is that of "starting," as in: "I'm starting to think that Glenn Beck is Crazeee."

It's very widely used, has been for many years, and is typically unconsciously applied as an extraneous qualifier. By the time one states one's opinion of, say, Glenn Beck's sanity, one is not "starting" anything; one is well down the road, as it were. As a generalized qualifier, however, "starting" allows the writer to avoid making a firm commitment to his or her statement, to back away if circumstances warrant, or to express a change of mind or heart.

By "starting to think" something or other, one does not commit to actually thinking thus and so. Ergo, someone who is "starting to think" that Glenn Beck is Crazee isn't quite sure he is, and so, for the time being, is reserving judgement.

On something that's obvious.

Because "starting" is used so widely and so often on the Left blogosphere, one might think that leftish bloggers are always "starting" to do or believe or think or whatever, and never-ever actually commit to doing, believing or thinking anything.

Everything is always at the "start" point. Never midway. And certainly never concluded.

This implies a constant blogospheric "now", much like the news media's fiction of "new", but it also implies that there is never anything but the "now" in the sense of the very beginning of something, and everything is sui generis. There is no history, there is no learning curve, there is no evolution, there is no future, either. Because everything is always just "starting."

Typically when I run into the "starting" locution, I let it go, but sometimes it is so egregious ("Neo-cons are starting to piss me off.") I will comment on/lambaste whoever is making such a silly statement. The time to "start" is long past. We should be at the end game now, not "starting" anything.

It's tied, I think, to the mythology of how very New and very Now the blogosphere is. The blogosphere itself is just "starting", you see, so the idea of actions and beliefs just "starting" as well is natural. The problem is that the blogosphere and its progenators have been around for quite a while now. It isn't brand new. It's got some wear and tear on it and the chrome is a little pitted and dingy. But if everything continues to be just "starting", bloggers don't have to worry about history or necessarily about the future, especially if you can "start" something but then back away or back out or return to the starting point.

It's a minor bête noire of mine, like Digby's "Village" locution that's really referring to a Palace and she knows it, but when it comes to the so-called Progressive blogosphere, the notion that it will take a long time -- decades, generations, centuries -- to "turn this country around," and we're just "starting" is very strong, and in my view, self-defeating.

At some point, there's got to be actual progress... ya know?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OT: Blarney

I've posted a few things about my (supposed) ancestry here in the past, not that anyone is particularly interested, and during the last few days while I have had some time and have been completely bored with the so-called Health Care Reform "debate" and most of the rest of politics as well, I decided to look into some of the documentation of my father's side of the family.

Quite a tale was told when I was young about castles in Ireland seized by the perfidious English, most of the clan then decamping for America, first to settle in Maryland starting in the late 1600's, more ancestors coming over soon after 1714, the final wave about 1740.

Some of them became very, VERY prominent in Colonial affairs, filthy Papists though they might be, and a few were deeply involved in the Revolution and the subsequent creation of the country, its Constitution and all the rest.

My own branch, supposedly, was collateral to the Founder-branch but important enough in its own right that, for example, the Capitol of the United States of America stands on land that was donated to the government by a direct ancestor. I had tried in the past to make the connection from him to my own great grandfather whose father I had been told had come over the Alleghenies and eventually into the Ohio Valley where the family stayed until moving on into Iowa in the mid-1850's. But try as I might, I couldn't quite make a connection I was certain of. I could find and trace names that were connected, but either dates or locations were off sufficiently for there to remain some doubt in my mind that what I'd been told was the truth.

So while I had some time, I signed up to and looked through some of their records, specifically Census records for 1850-1910 to see what I could find.

Hm. Well. It wasn't hard at all. I was searching on my grandfather's name. He was born in 1869, and there he was in the 1870 Census, complete with location (which is not where I had been told the family farm was, but at least it was in the same county). My great grandfather and his wife and their two other children were also listed in the household, names and ages matched the names and ages I knew and expected, so this was I was sure, the actual record of my great-grandfather's household in 1870. Only... it said my great-grandfather James was born in Ireland, as was his wife Alice. No. This couldn't be right, I thought. Alice O'Brien, my great-grandmother, I had been told was born in Ireland and emigrated with her parents in 1848 or 1850, and the Census record said she had emigrated in 1850, and so had her husband James.

I looked back into the 1860 Census, and there was James and Alice again, only one child, but living and working at the same farm in Iowa. Both were listed as having been born in Ireland, emigrating in 1850.

I checked the 1850 Census and there was nothing in Iowa or Ohio for either of them. So. I'd been lied to. Or rather, I'd been told a tall tale, one that apparently was universally told (but perhaps not believed) among my relations as a form of one upping the neighbors. Or something.

But then, when I looked at the 1880 Census, I found James, but he'd moved to a different farm, in the same county but several miles away from his previous farm, and he was now married to Margaret. My grandfather and his younger brother were listed part of the household, but the older children were now gone. I had never been told of Margaret at all.

In the 1890 Census, James and Margaret had moved to town, and were now living on the same street as my grandfather, who now had a household of his own several doors down. James was now listed as retired. In the 1900 Census, my grandfather was still at the same house -- married to my grandmother Elizabeth, with one son, my uncle Vincent; James was still down the street but he was now alone, no Margaret. I could not find James in the 1910 Census, though I had been told he died in 1916, and I've seen pictures of him looking pretty hale and hearty around that time. So I don't know what happened to him.

He was declared dead by the Census in 1880, but the enumerator appended a note stating that his "widow" Margaret had misinformed her and that he was found alive on some other page of the Census, so the enumerator had added him back into the household. Must be some story there.

If I get some more time for this sort of thing, I'd like to research James and Alice back to Ireland, though now I have no idea where they came from. What I had been told about the Irish origin of the clan puts them in Co. Tipperary and Co. Offaly, but I have no idea where James and Alice might have originated. James would have been 19 years old when he emigrated from Ireland, Alice would have been 16. She came with her parents, I was told, but I don't know their names (O'Brien is pretty a pretty common Irish name!). James's father, supposedly, was named Alexander, the same as his oldest son. I wonder what happened to him.

What a time sink!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Old Man Gloom

Last night they burned Zozobra -- Old Man Gloom -- in Santa Fe as they've done every year since 1924 (or '25) when Santa Fe artist and bon vivant Will Shuster came up with the notion of buring a giant papier-mâché boogy-man to chase the cares away. It's impossible to separate Santa Fe's artistic history from that of Will Shuster and Los Cinco Pintores.

But despite the many tens of thousands who attend this long-time "burning man" event each year, the Burning of Zozobra is far less well known than the much newer eponymous Nevada Playa make-fest.

Of course this year, Old Man Gloom was carrying an enormous burden of economic woe in the smoke of his demise. Even in New Mexico the economy has turned to shit, and I say that knowing full well that the economic catastrophe has been devastating to much of the state, particularly in rural areas. But compared to many other places, New Mexico is sitting pretty and its people are living high on the hog. Bad as things are. The unemployment rate is "manageable" and stimulus projects are are actually having a measurable effect.

Part of it is the smaller population of New Mexico -- there's only one city of any size, Albuquerque, and the rest of the state is so sparsely settled that people flying over have a hard time spotting any signs of Civilization. Row-mates on airliners have become alarmed at the apparent lack of people!

Part of it is the fact that New Mexicans are not only used to boom and bust economies, their history has many periods of lean times, going back well before the arrival of Coronado, Oñate, de Vargas and the rest. People make do and make the best of things.

And they sometimes break out of the dull routine by burning papier-mâché monsters.

It's the culture.

I intended to offer up a Labor Day piece glooming about the hideous unemployment figures, but I saw that many others had that base covered, finally, and I thought I would have very little new to add. Besides, I've covered the issue repeatedly, from way back. It's nice to know that some folks are playing catch-up.

But one thing I have noticed is that in all the now-fashionable sturm und drang over the increasing "problem" of lack of jobs, few have connected the situation with deliberate policy decisions, such as the absence of any significant jobs programs, and even fewer seem to recognize the policy upshot of driving down wages and benefits for those who manage to remain employed.

Back in the days when unions were strong, these connections would be almost axiomatic, and the Obama administration wouldn't be compared to FDR's, it would be compared to Hoover's, because the Obama administration is basically repeating Hoover's mistakes by applying nearly all the government "relief" to the top of the economic pyramid. That's what Hoover did. How did that work out?

Of course the case can be made that all kinds of social and economic programs to relieve the situations of the lower orders were put in place during the Depression and afterwards, and many of them are still functioning, so it is not entirely true that the government is doing nothing for the poor and middle class and for the unemployed.

Are there not prisons? Are there not workhouses?

And the Big Health Care Overhaul we keep hearing about is supposed to be an add-on to the FDR and LBJ social/domestic programs that will make everyone better off and more secure.

So why the Gloom?

Actually, I'm trying to get out of my Gloom Period. Not necessarily successfully, but still...

The economic catastrophe that none dare call a Depression is forcing massive economic restructuring, top to bottom and world wide, and some of it is potentially very good.

We need to ask questions about why every household has to have at least two gainfully employed members in order to afford relative comfort. Why are personal automobiles still necessary? How come alternative energy and fuels and modes of transportation are still so expensive and/or inconvenient?

Why does health care reform still raise so many hackles?

Economic restructuring doesn't have to be bad for the working and middle classes, but that's the only way restructuring has been played for decades. And most Americans have been passive observers, unwilling to risk any of their declining security and comfort to change the direction of restructuring.

But perhaps the summer-long howling by those who say they are "scared" has had a subliminal effect on the passive majority and those who are convinced that ritualized "action" such as phoning your congressmember or sending out a furious email make a difference.

We can change the direction of the restructuring that's going on, we can force attention to be paid to the needs of the working and middle classes but only if we demand it and refuse to budge when the Ruling Class says "No!"

We're not there yet.

But no need for Gloom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Danger Zone

He's let it get out of control. Now what?

Oh. I see. On Wednesday next week, according to all the media, he'll convene a joint session of congress and speechify to them on what he wants his Health Care Reform to be. And he'll "scale it back." In order to "defuse Republican criticism."

Risky, they say, because it will piss off his Liberal Base. Spitfires, they are.

The problem is that it is probably too late to seriously affect much of what's going to happen from here on out. Not just about the health care "debate." About everything.

Obama has demonstrated how easy it is to roll him, cut him off, illegitimize him, mock, deride, and damage him. Barring a miracle, he's not going to recover. The fact that he made this demonstration while cutting off his liberal base is either breathtakingly naive or breathtakingly corrupt and cynical, take your pick.

For all intents and purposes, his administration is dead in the water. This ship is sinking.

And no, there isn't much chance it can be righted.

The opportunities were there during the summer, but the White House took a pass, and now... well, politicians sometimes get a second chance, and of course I could be wrong, but from every indication I can see, the era of Barack Hussein Obama was brief and flashy and now it is over.

Something like Akenaton's up above, although I believe he actually reigned 14 or 15 years before his demise and his memory was erased from Egyptian history... or at least the attempt was made to do so.