Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman

UPDATE: Wow, we've lost two major filmmakers in less than 24 hours. Liam just informed me that Michelangelo Antonioni died last night in Rome at the age of 94.

If I'm Jean-Luc Godard, I'm getting out my rosary.

And though he wasn't a world-renowned filmmaker, Bill Walsh was one of the greatest football coaches of the modern era, leading the San Francisco 49ers to 3 Super Bowl victories. He died yesterday as well, after a long battle with lukemia.

I feel like I'm suddenly running an obiturary blog.

UPDATE 2: Yes, Steve, Tom Snyder also died - but on Sunday, July 29, not the more fashionable date of Monday, July 30.

If anyone knows of other famous or not so famous people who died yesterday - or Sunday - or this morning - please let me know. Unfortunately, I checked and is already taken. I'll have to consider another name for the new obit blog.

I'm reminded of other dates in history when several famous people passed away: November 22, 1963, for example, when John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley all died. And the Big One in the literary world: April 23, 1616, when both Shakespeare AND Cervantes stopped writing for good.

UPDATE 3: It's been confirmed - Andrei Tarkovsky and Alfred Hitchcock have apparently died as well. I'm not sure if that happened Sunday, Monday or sometime earlier. (Strange, I recently sat through one of Tarkovsky's films and I could've sworn it went on forever. But evidently, he was forced to stop directing the movie at some point.)

I'm also getting word that Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder are not doing well. More on that story as it develops.

UPDATE 4: Michel Serrault, French actor (Diabolique, Joyeux Noël, La Cage aux Folles, Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud), is dead. He passed away of cancer on Sunday, July 29, 2007.

ORIGINAL POST: In my mind, there have always been three Titans of Film: Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman. Federico died in 1993, Kurosawa in 1998, and now the last of the great ones has gone on to that beautiful Cinemateque in the sky. Bergman was 89 and died this morning at his home on the island of Faro.

The Seventh Seal was one of my earliest experiences with foreign film. It was around 1980, and I saw it in a large auditorium classroom on the University of Texas campus. It blew my little 17-year old mind away. I just didn't know cinema could do those kinds of things. Death playing chess with a medieval knight! How cool was that?! Film suddenly seemed like it could reach the great heights of other art forms. The movie remains one of my all-time favorites.

I also love The Magician and Fanny & Alexander.

Good-bye Mr. Bergman. Tack så mycket.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

10 Influential Albums, Part I

From time to time, I'll realize how much a certain album has influenced me for one reason or another. Maybe it was the album that got me into jazz, or made me realize something about myself, or served as a soundtrack at a turning point in my life. I decided to put them all down on paper and see if I could figure out which were the most important. Some choices were easy. Others quite difficult.

In the end, I came up with ten, which I'm going to present in chronological order of when they came into my life, along with a brief description of why they were important.

I've decided to divide my list into two parts, else I may never get anything posted. We're moving over the next couple of weeks, have the first event in our new poetry series at a local public library next Friday, and summer sessions are in full swing at the university, among other things.

Some of these albums are well known, and I'm sure they've been important to many other people. Other choices are a little more obscure. These are not necessarily my favorite albums, though some of them would be on that list as well, but all of them played a role in my musical or personal development.

One thing I realized in doing this list was how grateful I am to friends I've had who turned me on to some wonderful music in my life. Also, a nod to Steve Caratzas, who did a list of Top Ten Life-Changing Albums on his blog. His list is infinitely more interesting than mine, too.

I'd be curious to know what albums have been important to the rest of you, so consider this a meme, and you've all been tagged. (Or not.) You don't have to do 10 albums, but maybe 5?

So, drum roll, please . . .

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles – I can't say for sure if this was the first album I ever owned (it might have been Help!), but it plays that role. In the early 1970s, my mother started going to weekly gatherings at the house of a cool Catholic priest named Fr. Dick Berg. The house had wooden floors, was mildly hippie-ish in decor (it was Austin in the early 70s), and we took communion while sitting on a rug. I have many warm memories of those evenings. Fr. Berg had been at St. Edwards University but wound up taking a position at the University of Portland, where he eventually became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and is still connected to the university to this day. When he moved away, he gave me some of his Beatles albums, including Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. For a kid who loved the Beatles, this was heaven.

It's probably impossible to explain to people who grew up later what it was like to be a kid in the late 1960s and early 70s, listening to the Beatles. As La Reina said the other day, the Beatles were more than music, they were like the air of our childhood. They surrounded us. The day I got my first paycheck, at 15, I went to the record store and bought every Beatles album I didn't own. That's how important they were to me. When I was in my 20s, post-punk and increasingly cynical, I thought I had moved beyond the Beatles and didn't listen to them for a long time. Then, around my mid 30s, I gave them a whirl again, and it all came back. And having listened to a lot of other music in the meantime, I came to appreciate them even more. It's amazing to me that these four lads from Liverpool who shot to fame as teenagers in something of a Boy Band could wind up turning their fans on to the likes of "Tomorrrow Never Knows," "Love You To," and "It's All Too Much."

Of all the different Beatles albums, Sgt. Pepper was probably the most influential on me as a kid because it was so grand, multi-layered and exotic. Presented almost like a play, the opening "welcome to the show" appealed to me, because I felt like I was entering into some kind of wonderful carnival. The musical range of the album made each song seem like a different booth in this strange and marvellous show. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was magical and dream-like, and my love of the song now seems like a harbinger of a later interest in surrealism. "Within You, Without You" seemed totally out of this world. The lush, mysterious, and expansive atmosphere of George singing over Indian sitars was something extraordinary for a 10-year old boy in Austin, Texas. The world seemed like such a rich and fascinating place. The herd of animals rushing from one speaker across to the other at the end of "Good Morning, Good Morning" simply delighted me. What is this wondrous zoo?!

Listening to the Beatles isn't like listening to another group for me. It's part great music, part nostalgia/memory and part yearning for something we've lost as a people. Cynics make fun of "All You Need Is Love" and the hippy-dippy Sixties. But today, listening to their music, especially some of John and George's spiritually searching songs, I realize how lucky I was to grow up with the Beatles as my "air."

2. Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd – I may have been intrigued by the Indian strains of "Within You, Without You," but musically my childhood was incredibly normal. My mom had some Neil Diamond records (it was the 1970s and she was single and in her 30s),some Dave Brubeck and Elvis, but there wasn't a lot of music in the house. Besides the Beatles, I owned a few 45s of the big hits (Barry Manilow's "Mandy"!), listened to Top 40 radio, and had a couple of albums by the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever!) Then, one day, when I was about 13, my friend David Esensee brought over this album and said, “You’ve got to listen to this.”

My life has never been the same.

If Sgt. Pepper felt mysterious at times, Dark Side of the Moon totally blew my pubescent mind. I just didn't know music could be like that. It seemed to tap into a different part of my brain. The moody bass lines and atmospheric synthesisers created a musical world that seemed related to the Beatles, but utterly different. It seemed heavier, darker, and edging deeper into a zone of which I was just becoming aware.

Listening to the album for the first time was a major turning point. After that, I ditched the Top 40 singles, started listening to the rock and roll radio station, and began to explore music and the world at large a little more. Suddenly, I was buying albums by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Who and other bands I had missed as a child. Oh dear. Adolescence was calling. And I was ready to rock and roll.

3. Never Mind the Bollock’s, Here’s the Sex Pistols: The Sex Pistols – It was 1979, and I was a junior in high school. Since the 4th grade, I had had two of the best friends in the world. We really were The Three Musketeers. But around 10th grade, we each started moving in different directions. We were still really close, but definitely changing.

A new sound had hit Austin, and I loved it. My two best friends did not. They made fun of my B-52s album. They hated that "punk" group, the Police. They hated that geek Elvis Costello. I was feeling torn up. One day, at Inner Sanctum, the great punk record store in Austin at that time, I picked up the Sex Pistols album. I had heard a lot about them by then, knew they had played a confrontational and disastrous show at a country & western club just a few miles south in San Antonio. Knew they had gotten in trouble for their song "God Save the Queen." They marked a dividing line at the time. It didn't matter that they could barely play their instruments - this was it. I could play it safe and stick to Boston and Styx. I could pretend I was cool and get the Cars. Or I could jump full-force into the hurricane. I was 16 years old. I wanted something more. So I bought the album.

The raw energy was electric. The snide singing and outright anger of Johnny Rotten touched something in this increasingly rebellious teenager. The music was fast and furious and wanted to knock against the walls of the world.

To this day, I can remember my friend Steve thumbing through my records, trying to find something to put on. I was in another room, listening to him mumble as he went through the collection. "The Doors? No. Led Zeppelin? No. The Beatles? Nah." Suddenly, silence. Then, shouting across the house: "What in the hell is this?" He had found the Sex Pistols.

I liked other groups much more than the Pistols, especially the Clash and Joy Division. But buying Never Mind the Bollocks, even knowing it would cause division with my longtime chums, definitely marked some kind of passage into a new and different "self." Before that, I had been afraid of what other people thought about me, especially my closest friends. No longer. The Three Musketeers would remains friends through high school, but we hung out less and less. Now, I was headed off by myself into an unknown direction.

4. Stardust: Willie Nelson – Ironically, at the same time I was desperately trying to establish my own identity and listening to the Sex Pistols, I also bought this album. I can actually remember thrashing around my room one night to the Pistols and, after exhausting myself, putting on Stardust as I went to bed. Who knew at the time that this too was my identity. I denied it for a while, because at age 17, good punks weren't supposed to be listening to old fart's music like Willie Nelson.

But I loved the tunes. And, in the end, Stardust had much more of an impact on me musically, because it was through this album that I learned about people such as George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington. I began to look these people up. Who were they? What was their music like? Later, as I started listening to jazz, I came across their names more and more. And these tunes would show up on a Billie Holiday record or a Louis Armstrong record. It was like someone saying, "Welcome, Come On In to Jazz."

Willie Nelson had spent all of the 1960 as a country & western songwriter (Patsy Cline's "Crazy," for example). In the early-mid 1970s, he did a few country albums of his own, none of which were particularly popular. Then he came up with the idea for a country & western concept album called Red Headed Stranger, and one of the singles, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, " became a big hit. So what does a country singer do then? Well, an unsual one from Austin gets Booker T. Jones to produce an album of old standards by Gershwin and Hoagy and Berlin. It's Willie's same ol' country band, but now everything has changed. The selection of material was excellent, especially Hoagy Carmichael's two songs, because much of his jazz always did have a rural, country feel to it. And Willie tapped into some of those older, deeper music connections, like Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music, cutting records with a young Louis Armstrong. Ray Charles, also, would've been an influence, crossing over between jazz and country and the blues. And Texas itself has a rich jazz history (though no one talks about it much), along with folk, country and the blues. In many ways Stardust goes back to that time when folks would sit out on the porch on a warm summer evening and someone would get their guitar and start picking at a few favorite tunes. That's the atmosphere Willie created on this album.

Booker T.'s production still sounds great today - roomy, lush and atmospheric. Willie's acoustic guitar takes on a haunting, nostalgic quality that captures Gershwin beautiful and aching "Someone to Watch Over Me." Mickey Raphael's wailing harmonica moves out of the honky tonk and becomes a mournful songbird on a summer evening. And, perhaps I'm biased because I heard Willie sing these songs first, but I think he does an amazing job with them vocally. He did some other albums of standards, but this one is far and above the best. It's even ranked 257 on Unnamed Corporate Music Magazine's Top 500 of All-Time, not bad for a country singer doing old jazz standards at the height of the Rock and Roll Era. The album remains one of my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it.

5. Blood on the Tracks: Bob Dylan – In high school, I had gotten into a lot of 60s and 70s music, but I never liked Bob Dylan. That voice! Who could stand it? But my first year in college, a new friend and fellow poet loaned me this album and said I should really listen to the words.

At the time, I was living in north Austin, and the railroad ran close to the house. Sometimes the trains would stop, and as I drove by, I'd notice that some of the box car doors were open. "How easy it would be," I thought, "to just hop in one of those box cars and go." I had just turned 18 and I was restless. College was okay, but it felt just like high school. I wanted to travel, to journey, to wander.

That's when I started listening to Blood on the Tracks. Even the title was cool, I thought. The opening song, "Tangled Up in Blue," was all about drifting around and experiencing interesting things. And the guy's voice didn't seem that bad now. In fact, I liked it's ragged, earthy quality. He sounded like a dirt road. And the lyrics were phenomenal! How could I have missed all of this?! "Idiot Wind" was like an epic novel. He had some of the Pistols anger, but he seemed really different. He sounded wiser and more experienced.

And there were women involved. Dylan wasn't singing stupid love songs, he was singing about sex and relationships. I was 18 and going through my first love affair. It was terribly dramatic and intense. I wanted to run away with this girl. She was my muse, my lover, my goddess. And Dylan seemed to know all about it. He gave out warnings about how much pain might be involved. Ironically, a few years later, after my love and I had run away, and then broken up, this album really struck a deep chord. My heart and soul tore itself up in agony as Dylan sang, "If You See Her Say Hello," because I had lived the song now.

I started buying up all the Dylan albums I could find. My friend Walter, who had loaned me Blood on the Tracks, and I went through a feverish friendship that first year in college, both of us totally into Dylan. It was one of those rare but special occasions when you can share your musical madeness with someone else. We started a literary magazine together. Went to see foriegn films together. Shared an aprtment. Drove out of town in the middle of the night to go exploring, or to hang out in some truck stop cafe at 4 am. I dropped out of college the next year and worked full-time at a supermarket. Then I left Walter and Austin behind, as my girlfriend and I headed to the mountains of Colorado to chase down our romantic dream. Dylan was the soundtrack to that dramatic time of my life. I couldn't have asked for better.

After all is said and done, Bob Dylan has probably had more influence on me than anyone else artistically, though I don’t listen to him nearly as much anymore. If I was headed to a desert island and could only take one Dylan disc, I would struggle between this album and Blonde on Blonde. Nostalgia would make me choose Blood on the Tracks.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Feel Good, Inc.

Two years ago, the people who put out this video would've been called "extremist anti-war leftists" or some such baloney. Now they're called . . . The Houston Chronicle, largest-circulating newspaper in the state of Texas. (And 9th in the U.S.)

My, my, how times have changed.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good Bye, Lady Bird

Another one of the Grande Dames of Texas passed away yesterday. Lady Bird Johnson was 94.

Growing up in Austin, it was impossible not to hear of her. I watched her television station; listened to her radio station; rode my bike along the Hike and Bike Trail, which she helped create; visited her husband's Presidential Library countless times; saw all the wildflowers she helped plant along the roads of Texas; and even went to the Johnson Family Ranch, which she turned over to the nation in 1972 as a National Historic Site.

Her radio station, KLBJ, was a pretty damn good station, too. The only real rock and roll station in Austin in the 1970s. It embraced punk rock early and introduced me to groups such as the Clash, Sex Pistols and others.

She brought poetry and barbeque to the White House. Can't get much better than that.

There's going to be a public cortege on Sunday, starting at the Capitol in Austin, passing along Cesar Chavez Street, crossing Town Lake, and heading out of town all the way to Johnson City, where she'll be buried at the family cemetery.

Here's part of an obituary from the Austin American Statesman (free registration required):

Her marriage to a larger-than-life Texan thrust a shy, small-town girl named Lady Bird Johnson into the national spotlight. A love affair with the great outdoors kept her there.

And though nationally, she was best known as the wife of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president, Mrs. Johnson was very much a figure in her own right. She mixed Southern graciousness with a quiet, cast-iron fortitude that not only won admirers but allowed her to steer a large business enterprise and help forge a national environmental movement.

Mrs. Johnson was an author, a businesswoman, a champion of education and conservation efforts, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and, most of all, a supportive and loving wife. She was a tireless advocate who left her gentle fingerprints on America's history and helped shape its diverse landscape.

Her legacy includes the millions of daffodils that bloom every year in the nation's capital, that strip of serenity along Town Lake known as the hike-and-bike trail and the bursts of spring color that have made stretches of Texas highways nothing short of remarkable.

Mrs. Johnson was a true intellect who loved books and poetry and, above all, stimulating conversation. At home and on vacations, she surrounded herself with writers, academics, politicians and thoughtful people whose discourse was far from idle chit-chat.

Her love of nature didn't confine itself to boardrooms and committee work. The outdoors and natural environment were part of Mrs. Johnson's regular day, as her once-frequent walks along Town Lake made evident, along with her picnic/poetry readings on the lawn fronting the LBJ Library.

Her environmental work took her from the National Geographic Society board of trustees to the Advisory Board on National Parks. She also served on the board of the American Conservation Society.

Lady Bird and Lyndon, dancing at their daughter's wedding reception in the White House, 1967.

And from the New York Times obituary (free registration required):

Mrs. Johnson was a calm and steadying influence on her often moody and volatile husband as she quietly attended to the demands imposed by his career. Liz Carpenter, her press secretary during her years in the White House, once wrote that “if President Johnson was the long arm, Lady Bird Johnson was the gentle hand."

She softened hurts, mediated quarrels and won over many political opponents. Johnson often said his political ascent would have been inconceivable without his wife’s devotion and forbearance. Others shared that belief.

Mrs. Johnson developed her own public projects. She was an early supporter of the environment and, in championing highway beautification, worked to banish billboards and plant flowers and trees.

Mrs. Johnson financed her husband’s first campaign for Congress in 1937 with a $10,000 loan against a small inheritance from her mother. She began taking an active role in politics in 1941, after he lost his first bid for the Senate and returned to the House. While he was on active duty in the Navy during World War II, Mrs. Johnson managed his legislative office. From that point she shared his public life, representing him, speaking for him and answering questions with unusual candor.

Johnson openly expressed affection for his wife. He often planted a quick kiss on her forehead and held her hand when they were being driven somewhere. In public, Mrs. Johnson referred to her husband as Lyndon; when they were alone or with friends, he was Darling. She was always Bird.

Although she had attended many state dinners in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Mrs. Johnson made no effort to copy the style of previous first ladies. Her first state dinner, for the president of Italy and his wife, combined Italian opera and American hootenanny.

The Johnsons enjoyed entertaining official guests at the L.B.J. Ranch in Stonewall, Tex. Their Texas background inspired the menus and entertainment for many White House events. The South Lawn, which the president referred to as the backyard, became a setting for barbecues.

Mrs. Johnson was born Claudia Alta Taylor on Dec. 22, 1912 in a big red brick house in the East Texas town of Karnack (population 100). The youngest of three children and the only girl, she acquired the name Lady Bird as a toddler after a nursemaid described her as “purty as a lady bird.”

Her whirlwind romance with Lyndon Johnson began in the autumn of 1934 in the office of a friend in Austin. They met for breakfast the next morning. After pouring out his life history, financial status, how much insurance he carried and his prospects, Johnson asked her to marry him. When she reported the first-date proposal to her father, he showed no astonishment. “Some of the best bargains are made in a hurry,” he said.

It took a few more tries before Johnson’s persistence was rewarded.

“He was the most outspoken, straightforward, determined person I’d ever encountered,” Mrs. Johnson said of her suitor years later. “I knew I’d met something remarkable, but I didn’t know quite what.”

They were married on Nov. 17, 1934, two months after they met, in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. The groom forgot the ring, and the best man was sent across the street to buy one at a Sears, Roebuck store for $2.98.

“It has been a wonderful life,” she told Ms. Carpenter in 1992. “I feel like a jug into which wine is poured until it overflows.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Breaking Point

UPDATE: "Senate GOP leaders block Webb dwell-time plan." - from Army Times:

"A Senate proposal to guarantee combat troops more time at home was derailed Wednesday by a procedural roadblock thrown by Republicans.

Fifty-six senators supported the plan offered by two military veterans — Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. — that would promise service members returning from deployment as much time at home as they had spent in a combat zone, unless they volunteer to return early.

With Republicans threatening endless debate, known in legislative terms as a filibuster, supporters of the Webb-Hagel amendment needed to muster 60 votes to stop the talking and bring the plan to a vote. They fell four votes short.

Webb said he was disappointed but won’t give up. “We are going to continue to focus on this,” he said.

The intent of the guaranteed time at home, known as “dwell time,” is “to protect our troops,” he said.

Hagel also vowed to try again with a modified amendment. “If we cannot get this right, I am not sure what we can do,” he said.

Once again, the Republicans prove they don't really support the flesh and blood men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan - only a concept of anonymous troops who will further the Bush administration's morally bankrupt political agenda.

ORIGINAL POST: A recent editorial in the Military Times says the U.S. Army is nearing its breaking point:

Many soldiers have deployed three, four and more times to Iraq, Afghanistan or both. But you won’t hear much in the way of complaints, because a shared sense of honor and duty overrides most self-interest.

Yet there is no escaping the fact that
the Army is nearing a breaking point.

In the fifth year of war in Iraq, when deployments should be winding down, combat tours instead are being extended.

Time between deployments, meanwhile, is unchanged. So today, soldiers can look forward to 15 months in the war zone for every 12 months at home.

Fifteen-month deployments mean some soldiers can expect to miss two Christmases, two anniversaries, and two of the same child’s birthdays in one war tour. It means more mental health problems for soldiers, more stress on families and less support for the mission at home.

This is bad policy.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., plans to introduce legislation to mandate that deployed troops get a month at home for every month deployed. So if a deployment does have to last 15 months, soldiers wouldn’t have to go back for another 15 months.

Better still, it would undermine justification for those longer tours and push the Army to revert to 12-month war stints. Army planners ditched the 12/12 model to support a surge of forces in Iraq.

Longer tours are appealing because, on paper, they let a smaller Army do more. But in reality, they threaten the very strength of our Army. A recent mental health survey of combat troops conducted under the auspices of Multi-National Force-Iraq found that mental health issues increase in direct relation to the length and frequency of deployments and the amount of combat experience soldiers endure.

The team recommended that the services “extend the interval between deployments to 18 to 36 months or decrease deployment length to allow time for soldiers [and] Marines to mentally re-set.”

Webb's son is the only child of a U.S. Senator serving in Iraq.

The mental health of returning soldiers is an increasing concern, as this Washington Post story details:
U.S. troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer "daunting and growing" psychological problems -- with nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of the National Guard members reporting symptoms -- but the military's cadre of mental-health workers is "woefully inadequate" to meet their needs, a Pentagon task force reported yesterday.

The congressionally mandated task force called for urgent and sweeping changes to a peacetime military mental health system strained by today's wars, finding that hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million U.S. troops who have served at least one war-zone tour in Iraq or Afghanistan are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety or other potentially disabling mental disorders. . . .

The task force found that 38 percent of soldiers, 31 percent of Marines, 49 percent of members and 43 percent of Marine reservists reported symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression or other problems, according to military surveys completed this year by service members 90 and 120 days after returning from deployments.

Let's hope these soldiers get the support and care they deserve.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Who Are the Other 2008 Presidential Candidates?

So far, most of the media coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign has focused on the top 3 candidates in each party: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards for the Democrats; Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan for the Republicans. But what about some of the other candidates?

I've mentioned Bill Richardson before. And Dr. Ron Paul has been something of an internet sensation, doing well in online polls and on YouTube. Here are some candidates you haven't been hearing much about. I didn't even realize most of them were running.

Candidate 1 - "If you want to learn how to build a house, build a house. Don't ask anybody, just build a house." Exactly. I may have found my candidate.

Candidate 2 - Unfortunately, he wasn't born in the United States.

Candidate 3 and Candidate 4 - Could make a strong Republican ticket.

Candidate 5 - Still not sure he's running. Would bring something fresh to the White House.

Candidate 6 - Would probably do well with women.

Candidate 7 - Would probably do well with women who like other women.

Candidate 8 - Usually does well with both men and women.

Candidate 9 - He could definitely hurt Tancredo.

Candidate 10 - He and Dodd Zod might split each other's support.

Candidate 11 - Would pull in some lawyers. (And old Trekkies.)

So, let's open up the debate. Can Zone readers get behind one of these candidates and help push him or her all the way to the Casa Blanca in 2008? Forget DailyKos. We're part of the Netroots, too!

The War Drags On

Was listening to Donovan yesterday and was struck by this haunting song. It's from August 1965 and was originally released on the Universal Soldier EP. We may not have the nuclear fears of the last verse (or we may), but the rest of it could've been written today, substituting Iraq for Vietnam.


Let me tell you the story of a soldier named Dan.
Went out to fight the good fight in South Vietnam,
Went out to fight for peace, liberty and all,
Went out to fight for equality, hope, let's go,
And the war drags on.

Found himself involved in a sea of blood and bones,
Millions without faces, without hope and without homes.
And the guns they grew louder as they made dust out of bones
That the flesh had long since left just as the people left their homes,
And the war drags on.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

Last night poor Dan had a nightmare it seems.
One kept occurring and re-occurring in his dream:
Cities full of people burn and scream and shoutin' loud
And right over head a great orange mushroom cloud.
And there's no more war,
for there's no more world,
And the tears come streaming down.
Yes, I lie crying on the ground.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Get Your War On! [Privatization Gone Wild]

Excerpts from a Los Angeles Times article from the Fourth of July: "Private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq."

The number of U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq now exceeds that of American combat troops, newly released figures show, raising fresh questions about the privatization of the war effort and the government's capacity to carry out military and rebuilding campaigns.
More than 180,000 civilians — including Americans, foreigners and Iraqis — are working in Iraq under U.S. contracts, according to State and Defense department figures obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Including the recent troop buildup, 160,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilian government employees are stationed in Iraq.
The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq — a mission criticized as being undermanned. . . .

"We don't have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That's dangerous for our country," said William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon "is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that's obscene."

The numbers include at least 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreign contractors and about 118,000 Iraqis
all employed in Iraq by U.S. tax dollars, according to the most recent government data.
So don't feel bad. Your hard-earned tax money helps support the economy.

Of Iraq. (Where American managerial skills have been successfully employed for five years! So I'm sure that money's being used efficiently.)

And the economy of Blackwater. (They thank you but are too shy to say so themselves.)

Also see Jeff's excelent posts, The Dogs of War. The Privatization and Outsourcing Mania Goes Over the Top and "Outsourcing Mania Gone Over the Top: The Privatization of Government as a Threat to Democracy."

Happy UFO Day - Poems!

Okay, I'm a little belated with the felicitations, but Monday (July 2) was UFO Day, which is celebrated worldwide. UFO Day marks the date in 1947 when a flying saucer crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. This year is the 60th anniversary of that galactically important event! But don't fear - the real party begins today:

"From July 5 to 8, more than 50,000 people are expected to attend the New Mexico city's annual Amazing Roswell UFO Festival. Speakers include Chase Masterson of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Dean Haglund of The X Files."

And if you don't think this is serious stuff, the Academy of American Poets begs to differ. They've published an essay for the occasion, entitled "Poems About Aliens," and they offer related poems by Robert Hayden ("[American Journal]"), Denis Johnson ("The White Fires of Venus"), Stanley Kunitz ("The Abduction"), and Greg Delanty ("The Alien").

I particulary enjoyed Hayden's poem, which looks at America and the planet through the eyes of an alien.

"america as much a problem in metaphysics as it is a nation"

Live long and prosper!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Independents and Independence

Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia 1787

[NOTE: This is a revised version of the original post from 07/04/2007.]

The Washington Post published a front-page article last Sunday entitled "A Political Force With Many Philosophies," which summarized the results of an extensive survey on Independent voters conducted by the Post, Harvard University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the survey, 29% of voters now identify themselves as Independents, more than Republicans (27%) but still less than Democrats (36%). I've considered myself an Independent for a while now, and I've been thinking lately about what that means, so I found the article and survey interesting.

Here's part of the article:

Strategists and the media variously describe independents as "swing voters," "moderates" or "centrists" who populate a sometimes-undefined middle of the political spectrum. That is true for some independents, but the survey revealed a significant range in the attitudes and the behavior of Americans who adopt the label.

The Post-Kaiser-Harvard study was designed to probe more deeply into this increasingly influential portion of the electorate: who these voters are, why they remain independent, what they think about major issues and, of particular importance, how they differ from one another.

The survey data established five categories of independents: closet partisans on the left and right; ticket-splitters in the middle; those disillusioned with the system but still active politically; ideological straddlers whose positions on issues draw from both left and right; and a final group whose members are mostly disengaged from politics.

Here's the percentage breakdown of the five categories: Disengaged (24%), Disguised Partisans (24%), Disillusioned (18%), Deliberators (18%) and Dislocated (16%). You can read through their descriptions be clicking on the links for each one.

Not surprisingly, I fall (mostly) into the category of Disillusioned Independent:
These independents are deeply dissatisfied with politics today and antagonistic to both parties and the two-party system itself. Nearly seven in 10 are angry.

Only 14 percent are satisfied with the political system; eight in 10 express little or no confidence in government. Nine in 10 say the two-party system does not work for them, and most think Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same.

Many say “neither party” better represents their views on key issues, including more than seven in 10 who say so about their positions on Iraq.

Bush and the war are crucial components of the disillusionment.

Three-quarters say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and just two in 10 think it is still possible to stabilize the country. Fifty-seven percent call Bush the worst modern president.

For 2008, this group leans Democratic, but high levels of disenchantment could keep them home. They would also welcome an independent candidacy.
"Nearly seven in 10 are angry." Buddy, you don't even know the half of it. Bush and the war may have been "components" of my disillusionment, but it's been going on a long time. I will not stay home in 2008, however. And I will not support an Independent candidate this time. I want the Republicans to be severely punished in the next election. I want to see their cowardly, pseudo-macho, chicken-hawk selves on their knees in tears. This administration has wrought hell upon our country, not to mention upon Iraq and other parts of the world. I'll work with the Democratic Party - because I feel like I have no choice.

Some other interesting results from the study:
  • Fifty years ago, independents accounted for about a quarter of all adults. Today, that proportion is between three in 10 and four in 10, depending on the survey. In most states that have party registration, independents or those who decline to state a party preference are the fastest-growing segment of voters, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
  • Independents mirror the population in terms of age, income and education. But they are disproportionately male.
  • Independents also are more secular than the overall electorate. Four in 10 in the new study would like to see religion have less influence on politics and public life than it does now. Almost a fifth say they have no religion.
  • Three-quarters said voting on the issues, not a party line, is a "major reason" they claim the label, while seven in 10 said a prime factor is that they vote for individual candidates, not parties.
  • About half said a major reason for their independence is that they agree with Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others, and that they are not comfortable with either party.
  • Four in 10 said not wanting to put a label on their political views is a principal reason for calling themselves independents.
  • One pig-headed SOB from Texas with an obvious chip on his shoulder, talked nonsensically about a party platform that incoporated the likes of jazz, Yves Montand, Tex-Mex food, a touch of anarchism, Monty Python, John Lennon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Zapatistas, the New York Jets, Tom Waits, and a radical redistribution of wealth, Coltrane CDs and Spanish vino tinto.

Okay, maybe that last part wasn't in the article.

We have 323 kinds of breakfast cereal, 473 kinds of beverages, 500 channels of television, millions of websites . . . and two political parties.

How, I wonder, can over 300 million people from nearly every cultural, ethnic, and religious background in the world be represented in such a dualistic system? I look at the Senate, and I don't see representation of the people of the United State of America. I see rich white men. And while the House is a little better, I still don't think it comes anywhere close to true democratic representation. I don't know if having other parties would change that, but I don't think it's working the way things stand now.

If my spiritual journey, environmentalism, and life in general have taught me anything, it's that all things are interconnected. I am a part of my community and my actions affect all. In that regard, I ask myself why I don't participate more fully in the existing political system in this country by joining a party. On the other hand, I've also come to believe that life doesn't have to be so dualistic. Why should I be forced into an Either/Or situation between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to making decisions that have major consequences on our society and on the world? What about multiplicities? We're creative beings. Is it really impossible to create other alternatives?

Still waiting for a party that represents me

What I really resent is that these two monolithic parties have helped create a system in which there is no other choice. Unless some kind of change occurs, you will never again see the likes of Ross Perot getting 19% of the vote, as he did in 1992. After that experience, the parties have rigged things even more. One example is that they took over the debates from the League of Women Voters after 1992 and changed the rules, so that it's nearly impossible now for an independent candidate to participate. Also, big-money Independents like Perot, and now possibly Bloomberg, don't really care about establishing a viable, long-term alternative. It's an ego thing for them, it seems, more than a real concern about how the system works. They think that they as individuals can run things better than the two parties. And, sadly, Ralph Nader didn't seem to care about establishing a long-term alternative in the end either.

We as a country fought a revolutionary war in order to free ourselves from a corrupt political system that didn't correspond to our genuine needs. It was an inflexible system run by the wealthy mostly for themselves. As long as the Democratic and Republican parties maintain their stranglehold on our political system, I'm not sure how much real independence and fair representation we're going to feel. Disillusioned as I might be, I still yearn idealistically for a party that acts out of true vision and strength, one that shows genuine concern for creating a just society for all. On a grey, dreary Independence Day (what a drag!), I guess I'll have to settle for being an Independent.

Happy Fourth of July.