Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tom Waits Thursday

Looking for Orwell in the Doorwell

At times like this I wax pedantic.
It keeps me from getting manic, acting frantic.
as the nabobs quibble and dribble with semantics
they try and tell me that they are the only demographic.
oh well, I guess they are just pragmatic.

Mad props to the ex-cop!
Whose first name was Eric his pen did Blare
he was a confused sage who documented his mad age
in depressing, oppressing page after page.
But the guy was a secret mage!
he did check the rage and abused the sacred yage.

Politics and the English language,
shows you how they planned this
you will see that collateral damage
creates a cloudy image
its' a lazy definition that keeps you in a mental prison.

he could have been a dean
but instead he bowed down to a virtual king
who got his throne by shady means
Sometimes he was mean, but hey, his pockets were lean.
as he walked to Wigan he was leered at by peers!
they never see clear!
weaving deceiving skeins, based on faded dreams.
the smilers beguile, but their eyes carry a yahoo gleam.

He was once with the red team.
Until he caught a lead bolt from a heavy colt
Were you in Catalonia for the catatonia?

In naughty three people ask me
Banji when will you get romantic,
what! I say, I write about the things I feel
all I need is insan kamil and a will of steel
When there are things that mean something
why meditate about nothing?

I prefer to keep score
Remember in 1984 war is the core
Which makes all equally poor
Please shrink from doublethink
Don’t get paranoid
Like an athlete eating ‘roids

George Orwell is one of my favourite writers, I think I've read everything that he wrote, his son did not get any money form his father's writings and works as a civil servant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Utah Philips

Around 2:30 this morning I found out that Utah Philips died on Friday. I never met the man but I like his philosophy and he seemed to be a decent man who cared a great deal about making this world a better place. I guess he was a true anarchist.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Plots Against America, or The Tales of Two Dicks

In Radio Free Albemuth Philip K Dick talks about his experiences in an alternative universe where Richard Nixon clone brings about a totalitarian government in America. One of the plot twist is that he is a communist stooge. According to Phil Ferris F Fremont red baited his way to glory, with their enemies’ lists his administration rounded up people who opposed his regime. Being that PKD was a Christian who was greatly influenced by the Gnostic traditions he came to believe that this world that we are seeing is a creation of the demiurge and that the persecution of Christians by the Romans were still on going. Though he was a very well read man who has had a profound impact on Science Fiction & popular culture the shifting reality that he tried to create in Radio Free Albemuth is carried away by the fact that the Christians were never persecuted by the Roman government as he believes. Knowing the truth about the relationships between Christians and non-Christians in the Roman Empire do make it harder for me to subsume myself in his alternate world. This is similar to my reaction to Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.

Like Dick Roth’s novel is set in an alternative reality where a prominent right-winger turns America into a fascist state. In both the novels the villain is working for a foreign power and in our current world their views have been debunked, discredited, discarded, and debacled. Like Nixon Lindbergh was very popular however his hatred of Jewish people, his sympathy for Nazis and mainly his involvement with America First really tarnished his reputation. Similarly Nixon was popular enough to have the 1960 election stolen from him and to win a decisive electoral victory in 1972. Also in The Plot Against America Roth is the narrator of the story, unlike Nixon Lindbergh plans on rounding up Jews. Both novels use a sort of deus ex machina to get the nation out its’ jam. Both novels are a celebration of a different time and we can see the great love of both writers for their hometowns. Though Dick wrote Radio Free Albemuth in the early seventies one of the things that I love about the story is that we get a glimpse of San Francisco before it became Silicon Valley, in The Man In The High Castlewe see that Dick had a love for San Francisco of farmers and small time business folks. Likewise Roth shows great affection for the places of his childhood. Another similarity is that the heroes of both books, Phil’s friend & Roth’s father, get messages on how to resist from the radio. Herman & Bessie Roth turn to Walter Winchell's radio shows to get the truth on Lindy's America Firsters, while Phil's friends, Nicholas Brady & Sadassa Silver, turn to the satellite VALIS for guidance on resisting Ferris' Friends of The American People.

Like the Albemuth saga The Plot Against America has a historical error that keeps me from being completely subsumed by its' narrative. While PKD has some exaggerates the Christian persecution by the pagans Roth makes it appear that Jewish people had it worse than the indigenous people or black folk. Though I am ignorant of a great deal of the very real discrimination that members of the tribe faced most European Jews have been embraced by the dominant culture many people of colour are still face terrible discrimination, and more to the point Black, Latinos, and First Peoples had it a lot worse, Maybe its’ because of my experiences I felt a great deal of sympathy and empathy for the people in the novel but my feeling that the characters did not seem to be as aware racism lowered the impact of a great book slightly. That being said everyone writes what they know and just like I am more attuned to racism I would not expect Jewish people to be more attuned to racism than hatred of Jews. In a similar vein it would be unfair to dismiss The Color Purple because it does not discuss the oppression that Latinos were going though maybe a Guatamalan woman who reads it may draw parallels to her experiences.

That being said one of the things about The Plot Against America (TPAA) is how much self segregation there was by Caucasian Americans at the time, being that all the European ethnic groups were so insular at the time most of the people did not think much about folks outside their ethnicity, John Dos Passos’ 1919 gives us an example of this when Anne Elizabeth Trent makes a disparaging comment about the non Anglo Saxons who went on strike. Of course by 1942 white ethnocentrism had decreased greatly though from the actions in TPAA we can clearly see that it was not gone.

I think Phillip Roth achieved a number of things in TPAA, one of them is that he not only avoided the disturbing and hackneyed ideas in most alternative histories, of whom Harry Turtledove is a great example, but he also is able to put the reader in the frame of mind of a Newark child who looks at a frightening world with a child’s eyes. Furthermore he shows his ability to write humor with vignettes like young Phillip’s stealing of clothes, his masquerading as a catholic orphan and his encounters with Seldon. The fact that he did all three of these things which can be very difficult very successfully show me that he has earned his crown. I think that his greatest funny

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Back in 1995 I read a book on the 2oth century history of the labour movement in the United States. Apart from learning about the AFL, CIO, and other unions I found out about the wobblies. Ever since then I have learned more about the American labour movement I like the wobblies more and more. The respectable unions such as the AFL had a recruitment policy similar to private schools, they only would take the best workers, of course this policy affected the labour movement in the same way it has the American educational system. After many years of consumers of education validating policies that led to two tiers of education instead of one folks have started to see that it hurts everyone. Similarly the respectable unions who tired to sabotage groups like the wobblies, socialists, anarchists, nonwhite workers ended up destroying the labour movement in the US.

Now that the labour movement is almost dead in America people are able some people are trying very hard to revive it. In all revivals people use the heroic past to breathe new life into the movement, this is what Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman tries to do in his book about the Industrial Workers of the World. He starts by looking at their foundation and goes through some of their early battles. I think that the graphic novel is the best way to present the history of the IWW since so much of its' own marketing was made up of pictures, simple songs and posters. The stories also made for compelling reading, maybe because we all naturally gravitate towards tales of underground underdogs. For some reason stories of forlorn hopes have the power to move us while an epic celebrating a behemoth crushing its' antagonists never interest anyone. Another thing going for the book is that distance makes the unconventional unthreatning. Now that they are not a power most of can look back on the wobs with fondness since they are not around to demand collective action from us. They have become like Alhaji Malik Shabazz or Martin Luther King, or Abe Lincoln, something or someone that we can coopt them in our cocoon of expectations they can emerge as clockwork butterflies that have straightend up and flown right. This conquest of the historical narrative can be seen whenever folks dwell on the past of social movements without looking to the future and supporting the present. In Schulman & Buhle's book this happens also, much as I enjoyed reading about the wars that went on between miners and mines, or the bread and roses strike this all happened a hundred years ago. For most American workers the issues are quite different now and what worked at Ludlow, Patterson, or Matewan will not work now. Its' very easy for us to sing dirges to the past movements but there are labour struggles going on right now that we can all support.

The writers and illustrators of Wobblies are aware of this do show us more recent work actions that have happened in the past ten years. Looking at the modern wobbly is actually what makes this book a great start for anyone who wants to become more familiar on how the union movement has changed over the past one hundred years. I guess the pictures included with this post show what I am talking about.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Guns Of August Is Overated

I have head so many good things about Barbara Tuchman's first novel that I expected it to be a very moving and powerful account of the first month of World War I, as you can tell from the title of this post I could not understand what all the fuss is about. One of my problems is with her using French phrases through out the book. Back in the day when I read Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thackeray, Dumas it did not bother me that they would throw in the odd French bon mot since in their time all middle and upper class folks learned that so their readership understood what they were saying. Also for all those English writers who lived right next to France I could understand why they would throw in words like tete a tete, beau or even a French sentence or two. However Ms Tuchman was not writing in the 17th or 18th centuries as an 20th century American who wrote a book for the hoi polloi, where many folks do not learn French it lessens the impact of her book. I think that she could have blinded us with her knowledge, wit, and culture by writing in English I don't understand why she also did not render more quotations from the German or Russian generals in their vernaculars as well.

My second problem has to do with her writing style. I know that Ms. Tuchman was born around 1900 so her style was probably formed when by the time she hit her mid thirties, and I know how hard it is for us middle aged dogs to learn new tricks. Imagine some one who grew up with an upper class world view and education adjusting her writing style & personality to the vastly different culture of 1962. I think it can be very difficult. For example nowadays no writer would refer to a French general as having "peasant's eyes" because of the classist implications it might have as well as people clearly not knowing what makes a peasant's eyes different from a professor's, or a count's. Maybe it was a phrase that she read or heard as a child that stuck with her unconsciously. However I have read Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote much earlier than she did and I found his style much more engaging. Also from reading Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That there is a very good example of an turn of the century writer whose work seems very contemporary. Much as I love him George Orwell's style seems dated to me also yet I have read all his books. In some ways this criticism might be unfair since I respect what she does and as I try an improve my writing I try very hard to study the work of good writers like Ms. Tuchman.

However maybe my biggest problem is not with her style or her Gallophilia but her neglect of the Austrian side of the conflicts. Out of more than 300 pages its' my recollection that she devotes fifty to the Russian invasion of Prussia, which I think is appropriate since the Russians were beaten very, very badly. My question though is why does she mention the Russian defeat of the Austrians only in passing, she devotes only two sentences in the whole book to that. She also completely neglects the battles between the Austrians and Serbs such as Cer. If you were examine it there are some parallels between the Serbian defense and the Belgian ones but she does. Could it be that like most Americans & Western Europeans she could be dismissive of the Balkans?

Anyway despite my complaints I think that for its' time her work was very good but modern scholarship might do a better job covering the same subject. Like
Xenophon in his A History of My Times she glosses over her own personal experience during the August conflict. However on many things Xenophon is unreliable and very biased. No one can say that Barbara Tuchman was grinding any axes in her book which is one of America's seminal works of popular history. Despite my complaints I think that the book was very readable and captured the ethos and feel of the time very well.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Great Mississpi River Challenge

I plan on canoing in the Mississpi River Challengein June. Other than that I've got nothing.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Transforming Oral Tradition to A Literary One

While listening to some folks talk about how stories get passed around in Somalia I was wondering what happened to the art of story telling when writing started. Did some mythologies disappear because they did not translate well to the written form? Or did they just never get written because the people who knew them and could write them did not bother to record them since they did not think that they were important? Or with writing did the importance of being able to tell an old story in a new and interesting way dissapear. What about the power of memory?

Just like for the Arabs before they used writing a lot they had a wonderful tradition of creating beautiful oral poetry and memorizing Mahabarata length texts. However, now very people can do that due to the power of writing.

The Dilemma of Working Art

While I was at the McKnight Foundation looking at the art work of Somali weavers I learned that most of the women who make the beautiful colourful blankets & cloth don't see what they do as art. The unfortunate thing about this is that this leads the creativity, passion, and personality that many people, especially women, put into making materials for everyday use gets marginalized. I think this is truly unfortunate since "high art" comes from the art of everyday people.

Historically the hoi polloi made artifacts such as pottery, cloth, utensils for themselves, their loved ones, families, or for trade. In short they made this so that they could lead their daily lives and when you think of things like the grass that a Somali weaver would have to get, the effort in preparing the tree bark you know that it was done out of love and as a means of self expression. Just like the artistry that a baker puts into perfecting their art or the time and heart that a typesetter puts into designing an attractive type that is legible to as many people as possible.

However when this gets marginalized, maybe because our modern commercial culture cannot monetize it eefectively, or maybe because its' seen as working art, or perhaps because its' an exotic nonwestern creation, it gets lost and not preserved. For collective human culture this is unfortunate since it for posterity it is not likely to be around.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Meet Me at Conakry

As a youth some of the books that really intrigued me were pacesetters. I remember seeing the my first one first when I was seven years old, it was Mark of The Cobra. The covers made me think of a dangerous, exciting adult world where people smoked, lived in a morally ambiguous world that I suspected existed, and I thought that the women were hot, as the kids say nowadays.

I think I read my first one when I was eleven and it was Director! later on I read others like Evbu My Love, Have Mercy and one that I really Like was The Instrument. Now that I am in my middle age I see the books of my childhood as the works of people who were starting out in their careers who were writing mainly for folks either in their own age or a five to ten years younger. I don't know how many of them have become literary giants in the continent but I do remember that they told good stories, I even liked the romantic ones.

However, one that I really enjoyed was called Meet Me In Conakry. The novel started like the Iliad from the end and showed us how narrator and his two friends got to where they were. I think that some of the reasons why it appealed to me is that it was about what I would have liked to do. Unlike the heroes I never visited Gambia, Senegal & if memory serves Sierra Leone & Liberia. I had a year left of secondary school and was terrified of JAMB. In 1989 the war in Liberia had begun to spill over to Sierra Leone and it made the novel very real to me. Along with that reading the African Child as well as serialized autobiographies from Senegal in the Guardian had created an attachment to the people's and cultures of what I will call the Wolof coast. I guess it also fed into my latent wanderlust that I have tried succesully suppressed for so many years due to my desire to "get ahead", whatever that fucking means. Adolescence

Nanking & My Discontents

Last night I went to the DVD store and rented Nanking. It was a good documentary that consisted of actors reading the letters of expats who lived in Nanking at the time of the Japanese attack, interviews with survivors of the invasion as well as the Japanese soldiers. Watching the documentary was a bit sad and it showed how people can become so dehumanized and savage, though this is nothing new.

What I found suprising is that one of the folks who was defending the Chinese refugees was a Nazi, later on he got in to trouble with his government because he complained about the atrocities that he witnessed and tried to prevent. One thing that I did not like about the film is that I am sure that it was not American & European missionaries who were trying to prevent the massacres & rapes that occured but the film does not mention a great deal about efforts that Chinese officials made to protect their people. A long with this I am sure that most of the Chinese who tried to protect the refugees and civilians from rape and murder were killed themselves, though I am not completely sure about that. So again the viewer was treated to the spectacle of white folks saving the cowering natives from the barbarian hordes.

Despite my criticism I think that the stories were worth telling and I respect the efforts that the humanitarian and caring people made to prevent the suffering.

Tom Waits Tour

Somebody said that they saw Tom Waits in Birmingham, he was napping in a boxcar going by and singing about how he met his wife in Jersey when she was a young girl. Anyway the lady who told me about Mr. Waits was playing a swordfish trombone outside Welna's Hardware Store and she was all excited that because the Sultan of Song is going to be on tour.

I think I will have to go on the road. To save money I think that I will make candles to light at the concert by soaking day old bread in kerosene.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Bonus Army & Battle Fatigue

I got done reading The Bonus Army. It was good reading and I might talk about it more. I was not surprised to learn that the leaders of elite universities were against the GI bill since it would encourage the wrong type of people to want to goto the Ivvies. Another thing that I learned is that before he was insubordinate to Harry Truman MacArthur disobeyed Herbert Hoover's direct orders and forced Great War vets away from DC at bayonet point. This action on MacArthur's part probably cost Hoover the election.

Speaking about veterans earlier in the day when I was discussing vetran benefits 7 their costs with someone she told me that one of her interns is getting married to a guy who served more than two tours in Iraq. Her fiancee has become a conscientious objector, that did not shock me, what did was that of the forty people that he knew personally who came back from Iraq 30 of them are dead, since they all died state side after being discharged they will most likely not get the death benefits that active duty soldiers get when they are killed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Viewpoint on Vantage Point

Last night I went and saw Vantage Point at the Riverview Theater, it was a good exciting film, the sound effects helped quicken the blood. I think the photography was good, as usual Hollywood delivered. on effects, booming guns and horse shit in a eau de cologne doused, velvet box.

The horse shit is made of the following ropy turds.

  • The secret service always has people in the crowd who are watching everything that goes on.
  • Generally the people in charge of guarding POTUS will reserve a whole hotel not just a floor and will have multiple
  • The SS already will know all the folks that are on the security details of other dignitaries at any event that the POTUS will be at so them not knowing the mayor's police guard is a bit surprising. Maybe he really had infiltrated the cordon and that is why they were so suspicious of him.

Even though I enjoyed the film I thought it was funny that the attackers had no problem launching bombs that would kill many anti GWOT protesters but trembled at hitting a little girl in their speeding ambulance.