Sunday, November 30, 2008

Raccoo-oo-oon's Demise and Blizzards from Nowhere

Iowa City doesn't have an abundance of avant-garde music activity, so when the community declines by one, it's everyone's loss. This year already saw the end of the incomparable Yellow Swans, and now Heather at Volcanic Tongue tells us that Raccoo-oo-oon of Iowa is calling it quits. Nothing at their web site, maybe they're just morphing into their alter ego of Night-People. Maybe we'll never know.

Meanwhile, we did a marathon drive from Phoenix at 7 a.m. Saturday, hitting Colorado Springs around 11 p.m. Good thing. The roads were clear, there were no adverse forecasts, and not a smidgen of snow on the ground in town at midnight. By daybreak, there was five inches on the ground, by noon Sunday they had closed I-25, I-70, and US 24. Here's what the driveway looked like. What good is all that high-falutin' Doppler radar if it doesn't tell you what's coming?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Abby helps the kids create decorations, above. For those who wish to see a chronological blog of the whole day, you can start with breakfast, followed by Gunnar's run, kitchen preparations, appetizers, table talk, turkey carving, prayer circle, the kids' play (Acts I and II), after-dinner gaming, and the discipline of Decker. Happy Thanksgiving!

And of course, on the morning after, there's always games of Balloon-Jaws. Caution: Dangerous to toddlers. You might not want to try this at home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Arizona Thanksgiving at the End of the World

Carol's best friend in Arizona, also named Carol, likes to have an annual Thanksgiving soiree with more friends and relations than Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh. We hadn't been there in a while, so we piled in the car with dog in tow to hit the Valley of the Sun. Best line of the whole trip was in Gallup, where we were having a falsetto-singing contest and Abby said, "Dad, don't quit your day job - oops, never mind."

We stopped in Walnut Canyon, a national monument outside Flagstaff, to see the cliff dwellings:

The wonderful thing about the Phoenix gang is you get all the hilarity of a happily dysfunctional family without the muss and fuss of truly dangerous or disturbed relatives wrecking the week. Carol's son Decker is a strapping six-foot-something lineman for Salt River Project, but he's the intellectual type who reads The Economist, keeps up with the IBEW, and goes through novels voraciously. Since the list can include anything from the Oprah book club, he can cart around a Jodi Picoult novel while teaching a class on basic transformer theory, and not bat an eye. He's living at mom's following a divorce, with the three kids on tradeoff. We didn't realize the ex was barred from the house, she came in to pick up the sick two-year-old, and was charming and delightful, but Decker pointed out later that photos appeared to be missing from the walls. Typical. His new girlfriend, with almost the identical name as the former wife, is a charming and funny Chicago native with her own two-year-old son, who wants to play endless games of pirate and monster.

Carol's daughter Corey and her husband were living in the house for a while, while their own home was being finished, and they still drift in for visits. Her husband is a hilarious process engineer at Intel who's into beatnik culture and Trent Reznor, bearing a goatee and a Maynard G. Krebs grin. Corey is artistically inclined and often stoned, but she's the token Republican in the gang, a source of endless ribbing. She seems to admire the natural dominance of the ruling class, but gets into convoluted defenses of why she feels that way. It reminds of a new song Dar Williams released, "I Press the Buzzer," about stimulus-response experiments and the nature of fascism, except that Corey has her S-R wires crossed.

Carol's brother David was usually a permanent fixture in the house, as a perennial bachelor with custody of a teenage daughter, except that now David has finally married at some grizzled age no one can keep track of. Will meet the new wife soon, everyone loves her.

Carol has warned Decker and David and myself that Uncle Eddy is coming down from Prescott and politics are not to be discussed, as Eddy is adamant about a secret UN-al Qaeda conspiracy led by Obama. I said I'll just leave the new editorial out from The Economist, positing that the Republicans now officially devalue intelligence, so that no one but idiots are left in the party. We'll have fun. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mason Jennings in Boulder

Mason Jennings played Boulder Theater last night, and attracted a larger and rowdier crowd than I expected, skewed more to indie hangers-on and frat boys than to aging folkies. The pit was so full, I could only take a couple videos from further back. The missing-in-action Jonny Polonsky showed up to play bass with his band. In addition to playing most of the songs from the new album, Mason played a couple new songs he had written in Patagonia in southern Chile, "Black" and "So Many Ways to Die." A rollicking evening, and opener Zach Gill played a nice piano/ukelele/accordion set, too!

Friday, November 21, 2008


Some of the prettiest times in the mountains occur when an overnight ice fog coats the trees in an intricate frost that vanishes as soon as the sun hits. Last night was especially unusual, because the fog was accompanied by an actual ice fall that left the ground coated with what looked like white Dippin' Dots (sleet? oobleck?). I raced out at 6:30 a.m. to get some pictures before the magic was gone.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: It Tolls for Thee

Eight months ago, I expressed some concern about the future of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, one of the best sources of national-security stories in existence. Picked up the Nov.-Dec. issue, and a page 2 letter announces this will be the last printed issue published. From now on, there's just the web site and a digital compendium. Let's hope that continues to be a good site for news and views on nukes and other grave affairs, because the printed magazine will surely be missed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Laid Off

Not surprising at all, given the conditions of the media industry, but this still sucks. Well, now I can express solidarity with my downtrodden sisters and brothers in Detroit and LA and Seattle and ... well, let's see, is there an industry out there that isn't on the ropes? Need any freelance ranting or complaining or pontificating done, gimme a call...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Colorado Springs Says No to California's Proposition 8

Dozens of protests were held by the GLBT community across the country on Saturday, Nov. 15, to express opposition to the passage of California's Proposition 8, which seeks to change the state constitution to add a permanent ban on gay marriage. At the last minute, the feisty Spectrum group at UCCS organized a protest in Colorado Springs to augment the one in Denver. Above is a talk from Peterson Toscano, a theatrical performance activist in Connecticut, about the recent legalizing of gay marriage in his state. You can also follow the links in this sentence to talks by transgender activists Argiope and Nancy-Jo Morris, to local activist Rita Ague, to an unknown person at the start of the rally, and to a group shot of protesters (around 75 or so) on City Hall steps.

Update: Mark Lewis took a pic of me speaking at the rally (that's Bonnie Barnes of Spectrum on the left of the photo - she had a lot of responsibility in organizing this). Mark also did an excellent 5-minute recap of the rally here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ubu Riffs on Ubu

When Pere Ubu burst on the national scene around 1977, I was already familiar with the Alfred Jarry plays for whom the band was named. But in their 30 years of on-off existence, I've never seen the band pay direct reference to the three Dadaist-absurdist plays of Jarry. Last year, UCCS Theatreworks' Theatre d'Art in Colorado Springs did a wonderful mash-up interpretation of all three plays piled into one three-hour performance. But now, Pere Ubu has decided to honor Ubu Roi by producing a new interpretation, "Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi", with animation and puppetry by the Brothers Quay. Below is a snippet:

In reference to the earlier video post on TV on the Radio, I just found a video of TVotR, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and Peter Murphy covering Pere Ubu's 'Final Solution.'

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's All Fake

Credit-debt swaps. Collateralized Debt Obligations. I thought I had a partial grasp on this whole mess that sent most of the nation's largest financial institutions into bankruptcy. But the excellent Gretchen Morgensen, financial reporter for The New York Times, made her third or fourth appearance on Terry Gross's Fresh Air Nov. 13, and knocked me for a loop once again. She talked a lot about Synthetic CDOs - CDOs that are not based on bundled combinations of mortgages, but on bundled swaps and insurance policies written for mortgage CDOs. This explains why the taxpayer had to bail out AIG - it was an insurance company writing policies that were not used to ameliorate risk, but as fake assets that could be assembled into CDOs. By the end of the sub-prime craze, mortgage holders and external investors were betting on the futures of CDOs based on no assets whatsoever. Everything underlying the Synthetic CDO was entirely imaginary.

Gretchen had a few other important things to say. In 90 percent of the cases of consumers that took out sub-prime mortgages, the mortgages cannot be re-negotiated even if the government ordered the banks to do so, because no accurate record has been kept of the way they were sliced and diced into CDOs. Thus, no one knows who owns these mortgages, and how approval could be granted for re-negotiation. Also, she said that Paulson had little choice but to change the Troubled Asset Relief Program into a strategy for putting investment into banks, rather than in buying up bad loans. No one knew how to assign any sort of value to the toxic assets, thus the government had no idea what portion of the $700 billion to put into which mortgage packages. Well, at least the shift to investing in banks leaves the government with no philosophical reason for denying the same type of bailout to the Big Three in Detroit. Here's to Gretchen Morgensen, one of the few people on this planet who understands how completely and utterly fucked we are right now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ultrasound and Ultra-Human Chauvinists

The worst part of the Nov. 12 US Supreme Court ruling on the Navy's use of high-powered sonar is not just that marine mammals face a real and immediate threat as soon as the tests resume. The worst aspect of the 5-4 ruling is that Chief Justice John Roberts said that real harm does not have to be proved. If the Navy needs a specific technology for realistic testing, then the "public interest" outweighs the survival of a specific species, and requires the tests proceed.

I'm sure the sentient beings that live underwater would argue that a Supreme Court stacked 9-0 in favor of humans does not give them a jury of their peers. I am a firm believer, in opposition to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, that the Constitution is indeed a suicide pact - if the needs of the state override the Bill of Rights, override international rules against torture, override the Endangered Species Act, then the state should fall, since its principles are more important than its mere existence. But the U.S. government doesn't appear ready to fall on its own sword any time soon. More's the pity for all you whales out there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Investigative Journalism!

Kids, if you look quickly, you'll see an interesting example of that endangered species known as investigative journalism. On Nov. 11, the Denver Post ran a cover story by Greg Griffin on the local subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, Aurora Loan Services, responsible for a significant portion of all sub-prime bundling back in the day. I know, New York Times and Wall Street Journal still pay for investigative stories, including ones on the ever-widening financial meltdown, amidst their ever-shrinking budgets. But to find a regional media outlet that still employs good writers to take the time to look behind the day's headlines and write analytical pieces is a wonder to behold. We won't be seeing many of these in the future.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Iconoclasts Love Good Monk Riots

Little commentary is necessary on this article, just another weekend of entertainment in Jerusalem. Any old iconocurmudgeonclast could tell them that the problems always begin with physical relics and graven images, and escalate from there. A piece of the true cross that can be fought over is not the true cross. The bones of a saint that can be captured in a jar is not a true saint. A God that elicits fist fights for physical-world advantages is not a true God.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sunburned Hand of the Man and Gang Gang Dance in Denver

No, not together, nothing in Colorado could be that rational. Sunburned Hand of the Man was scheduled to make their first Colorado appearance at Hi-Dive Nov. 7, and I absolutely had to put highest priority on that. This is the first effort at touring since band member Adam Nodelman died. My only regret in capturing a few short clips (drum destruction above, along with this, this, this, this, and this) is that the lovely and talented Sarah O'Shea, playing electronics on an ironing board, is barely visible. Learned after I had gotten the ticket that Gang Gang Dance was making a return appearance at Larimer Lounge the same night. When the Sunburned show ended at 12:30, I raced over to Larimer and caught the last 30 minutes of Liz and the drum gods, including the clip of "House Jam" below.

What suddenly struck me last night is how much women have taken a crucial role in the experimental noise scene of late. A year ago, Craig M. got me the 4-CD Women Take Back the Noise collection, and since then I've watched women form their own collectives, like Leslie Keffer and Valerie Martino in Nashville, while women have taken lead roles in previously all-male avant-garde collectives: Bridget Hayden in Vibracathedral Orchestra and Telescopes, Inca Ore/Eva Saelens in Jackie-O Motherfucker, Michio in No-Neck Blues Band, and Sarah O'Shea in Sunburned. Personally, it seems that women are more innovative and precise in using noise than all those dorky men. I'm just glad the Tom Greenwoods and Dave Nusses of the world are willing to step into the background a bit, as women take back the noise.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A New Definition of "Police Riot"

Kudos to Colorado ACLU for uncovering the story behind a very strange event on Monday (Aug. 24) at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Though Monday was not supposed to be a big day for protesters, it ended up being the day with the most arrests, when police suddenly and inexplicably attacked a sunset march going from the Civic Center toward downtown. More than 100 were arrested, and of the 60 who decided to challenge their arrests, none have been convicted, due to lack of evidence or uncertain police testimony.

Turns out the police staged their own riot, when Denver undercover cops masquerading as anarchists pretended to resist arrest so that they could safely be removed from the area before the police did a sweep. A Jefferson County deputy, not understanding what was going on, pepper-sprayed the undercover cops along with the commander who was pretending to arrest them. From there, events deteriorated to the level of farce.

This isn't that surprising. When tear gas was widely used at the February 2003 protests in Colorado Springs, amateur videographers took pictures of police on side streets surrounding Academy Blvd., donning full riot gear before any civil disobedience had been done. When you can't find enough protest to justify your actions, make your own.

The core move of any bureaucracy is to self-perpetuate. If the budget can't be justified by its activity, a bureaucracy almost never calls for cutting its own budget. Instead, activity is generated. Everyone was chiding the Denver cops for the overwhelming presence on downtown streets during DNC. So they had to manufacture events to rationalize their budget.

When paranoids see all life and struggle as a stage-managed drama directed by shadowy puppet-masters, they are wrong 80 percent of the time. But every now and then, the curtain lifts on a second layer of game-behind-the-game, where we see that the paranoids have a point. What appears to be a political struggle is a scripted bread and circuses show presented for our edification and enjoyment. As the rallying cry goes, "This is what democracy looks like!"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Elections 2008 and the Ezra Pound Problem

Can a fascist ever be a good poet? I'm not making the value judgment here of demanding an artist be politically correct. If Christopher Hitchens wanted to write a poem in praise of Dick Cheney, well, more power to him, provided he sobers up first. Rather, I'm asking if someone who espouses a doctrine that overtly destroys dialog, demands compliance, and punishes those who stray, can ever be considered a worthy artist. I answer this in the negative. Ezra Pound was a shitty poet because he was fascist. Similarly, hagiographers to Stalin or Mugabe can never be assessed as genuine artists because they are making the case for closed minds, not open ones.

Now I don't take this too far, particularly because many people believe that only a partially troubled life can yield good art. On the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath dispute, for example, I will acknowledge some sympathy for Hughes, since he made some attempt to provide Plath with a good atmosphere, and Plath's troubles were so deep-seated, Hughes ultimately was not responsible for her suicide. But I would say that a serial abuser of women, like a serial killer, cannot be considered a worthwhile artist because their personal foibles trump their personal visions.

In the aftermath of the election, I've seen some essays and blogs that mimic the kind of language one hears from extreme evangelicals or racists. These people are sure that a Democrat victory gives rise to insta-socialism (just add water), and that anyone who voted for Obama is a dupe for some undefined conspiracy. I don't drink Obama Kool-Aid. Like Hillary Clinton, Obama was a flawed, centrist candidate with Democratic Leadership Council support. But he has an honest intent, and it sure as hell is clear that he's no more socialist than George Bush, post-bank-nationalization.

One expects to see myth-based pseudo-thought from the religious right, because the devout value faith-based truth more than rational discussion - in fact, they shy away from the scientific method as the devil's own. One does not expect to see it from writers and artists. There are plenty of neocons who love to debate issues with liberals and radicals, and more power to them. But there are writers and artists who assume that Obama's election means the world has come to an end, and they are not willing to discuss these issues. Such people are hagiographers for faith-based truth, and have no right to be considered artists in a post-Enlightenment world. An artist does not function as a toady for closed faiths, closed minds, closed political systems, or closed cultures. This is why Ezra Pound sucked by nature.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

OK, It's Over, and Congrats

I really never had a doubt that this would happen. Obama's acceptance and McCain's concession speeches were both classy. The only thing not classy is this die-hard core of neocons and oddballs with strange beliefs about Obama bringing about a "socialist USA" (hell, he's a centrist). Look, we had to put up with eight years of the biggest global terrorist imaginable in the Oval Office, so just shut the fuck up, OK?

Monday, November 3, 2008

TV on the Radio and Dirtbombs in Denver

TV on the Radio packed the Ogden Theater in Denver Nov. 2. The above clip is a song I didn't know - you can also find full (but darker) clips for "Dancing Choose," "Young Liars," and "Halfway Home."

I was also pretty impressed with Detroit band The Dirtbombs. Here are two full songs they played from their set, and here is a short clip indicating why it's so fun to play high-energy music with dual drum kits.

Who Needs the Peace Corps? (RIP Jimmy Carl Black)

That's sad, the first drummer for the Mothers of Invention, Cheyenne tribal member Jimmy Carl Black, died Nov. 1 of lung cancer at age 70, and the only news reports I've seen so far have been in European publications and web sites. This guy gave us everything from Lonesome Cowboy Bert to Geronimo Black. Given the huge accolades when Frank Zappa died, we should at least give it up a little for "the Indian of the group," Jimmy Carl Black. Every town must have a place where phony hippies meet, psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street....