Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Feras Fayyad’s Documentary, Last Men in Aleppo: A Shoah for Our Time

Aleppo, Syria was once one of the world’s great cities. Home to an astonishingly diverse number of communities comprising cultures from across the Middle East and beyond, its population peaked at close to five million before dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy movement  After years of bombing by Syrian helicopters and the Russian air force, this formerly thriving center of arts and culture, its centuries-old historic sites and housing stock have been reduced to rubble; only about two to three hundred inhabitants remain. Everyone else living there at the start of the previous decade has either become a refugee or been killed.

That’s the backdrop of Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s shattering, heartbreaking, Sundance Award-winning documentary Last Men in Aleppo, which continues to show in theatres and is available on the various VOD platforms. Starting in 2015, Fayyad began filming groups of White Helmets, the volunteer emergency responders rushing to civilian sites hit by bombs and missiles. His work was interrupted when he was imprisoned and tortured for almost a year by Assad’s secret police. Eventually, he was forced to flee the country: some of the film’s footage ended up being taken by the White Helmets themselves.

The result is a landmark work of mise-en-scene filmmaking, literally capturing the frantic rescue efforts through the first responders’ eyes. The viewer feels every bump of the ambulance on the potholed streets, the terror of the survivors hoping that their loved ones are still alive somewhere in the rubble, the soul-crushing shellshock of the ambulance crew after those with a chance of survival have been pulled from beneath the rubble and concrete and the dead have been counted.

Fayyad made the film to document Assad’s crimes against humanity, but at a press screening late last week affirmed that every wars is like this. This film is not for the squeamish: you will see a lot of dead infants, grieving parents and emergency workers grimly speculating on which body parts might be a match.

Yet amidst this relentless horror, there is extraordinary compassion and hope. In an audience !Q&A, Fayyad explained that he was stunned to see a “human experiment” in progress. Where conventional wisdom predicts savagery and a battle over dwindling resources, he found solidarity and love that defied all odds.

Most of the film centers around the White Helmets’ round-the-clock rescue runs, but the off-duty footage is just as revealing. Three main protagonists emerge. Khaled, the big, irrepressible family man whose kids’ health is failing due to malnutrition, is the most charismatic and expressive, whether making up his own blackly humorous lyrics to folk songs, or quixotically building a fishpond: if he survives, he asserts, he’s going to breed goldfish.

Mahmoud, in his early twenties, worries constantly about his younger brother in the crew and wishes in vain for an upgrade from the battered ambulance he drives. Subhi is the least talkative but most visually expressive member and seems to be the most shellshocked. We eventually find out that he has good reason to look that way.

We all know how this story ends. Everybody leaves, whether by smuggler’s route out of what’s left of the city, or by bomb attack: there’s more than one hastily organized funeral in this film. Meanwhile, the neighborhood kids are stoked to the max to finally be able to venture outside for a trip their ghetto playground, there’s produce at a small farmer’s market, and there’s even a wedding. Meanwhile, pharmacies are running out of medicine and a steady stream of Aleppians head for the Turkish border. As predictably as this film ends, it is no less shocking and heartwrenching, amplified by the White Helmets’ heroism. In total, Khaled ends up saving over two hundred lives, and the others are probably right behind. If there’s any film this year that deserves a Nobel Prize, this is is.

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November 6, 2017 Posted by | Film, Politics, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Resistance and Triumph Over Tyranny at Lincoln Center

For three years now, Lincoln Center has been partnering with Manhattan’s High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry in an annual celebration of freedom fighters from across the decades. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Thursday night’s annual performance featured “a stellar cast,” as Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez put it, playing some powerfully relevant music and reading insightful, inspiring, sometimes incendiary works by activists and authors from the sixteenth century to the present day.

Brianna Thomas raised the bar dauntingly high with the Civil Rights-era Sam Cooke hit A Change Is Gonna Come, guitarist Marvin Sewell playing bottleneck style on the intro for a ringing, rustic, deep blues feel. “I go downtown, and somebody’s always telling me, don’t hang around,” Thomas intoned somberly over Sewell’s terse icepick soul chords. In an era when Eric Garner was murdered because he got too close to a new luxury condo building, that resounded just as mightily as it did in Birmingham in 1964. She picked it up again with a ferociously gritty insistence, the audience adding a final, spontaneous “Yeah!” at the very end.

Later in the performance the duo played a hauntingly hazy, utterly Lynchian take of Strange Fruit. Thomas’ slow, surreal swoops and dives raised the macabre factor through the roof: If there’s any one song for Halloween month, 2017, this was it.

In between, a parade of speakers brought to life a series of fiery condemnations of tyrants and oppression, and widely diverse opinions on how to get rid of them. Staceyann Chin bookended all this with an understatedly sardonic excerpt from Bartolome de las Casas’ grisly account of early conquistadorial genocide, closing with a rousing Marge Piercy piece on how to build a grassroots movement.

Shantel French matter-of-factly voiced Henry George’s insight into how poverty is criminalized, but is actually a form of discrimination. Michael Ealy’s most memorable moment onstage was his emphatic delivery of the irony and ironclad logic in Jermain Wesley Loguen’s famous letter to the slaveowner he escaped during the Civil War: ‘You say you raised me as you raised your own children…did you raise them for the whipping post?”

Geoffrey Arend read Eugene Debs’ address for his 1918 sedition sentencing, optimism in the face of a prison sentence and a corrupt system doomed to collapse  Laura Mendoza voiced the anguish and indignity of a longtime resident of Vieques, Puerto Rico who’d seen his neighbors harassed and killed by drunken marines and errant bombs dropped in practice runs (this was in 1979, before the island was rendered uninhabitable by the same depleted uranium dropped on Afghanistan and Iraq). Considering that the President of the United States has castigated the people of this disaster-stricken part of the world for being a drain on the Federal budget, this packed a real wallop. We can only hope this latest incident helps the wheels of impeachment move a little faster.

Brian Jones read from a witheringly cynical pre-Emancipation Frederick Douglass speech on what the Fourth of July means to a slave, and also Martin Luther King’s emphatically commonsensical analysis of the racism and injustice inherent in the Vietnam War draft. Aasif Mandvi brought out all the black humor in Brooklyn College professor Moustafa Bayoumi’s account of being besieged by off-campus rightwing nutjobs. And joined by incisive, puristically bluesy guitarist Giancarlo Castillo, songwriter Ani Cordero sang a venomous take of Dylan’s Masters of War and an understatedly passionate, articulate version of Lydia Mendoza’s 1934 border ballad Mal Hombre, sad testimony to the fact that Mexican immigrants have been demonized long before Trump.

The next free performance at Lincoln Center’s Broadway atrium space just north of 62nd St. is on Oct 19 at 7:30 PM featuring artsy Mexican trip-hop band Ampsersan. Getting to the space a little early is a good way to make sure you get a seat, since these events tend to sell out.

October 14, 2017 Posted by | concert, drama, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Politics, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | Leave a comment

J. Henry Fair’s Environmentalist Photography: A Pre-Apocalyptic Exhibit?

Photographer J. Henry Fair’s new exhibit, Landscapes of Extraction: The Collateral Damage of the Fossil Fuels Industries at the second floor gallery at Cooper Union is as important as it is surreal. And is it ever surreal. Esthetically, Fair goes for vividly colorful landscape shots of future Superfund sites: that is, if there is any Superfund left to clean up the decapitated mountaintops, lakesize cesspools of lethal sludge, and seemingly innocuous construction sites he shoots from a distance. Fair’s photos are accompanied by a series of multimedia stations and a grimly informative running text detailing the processes he documents: deep sea drilling, mountaintop clearcutting, messy metal refining and chemical manufacturing. And those matter-of-factly calm if predictably messy construction sites are actually hydrofracked natural gas wells.

“Fracking,” in the gas business is slang for “fracture,” a necessity when drilling through shale deposits to unleash the lucrative gas beneath. Hydrofracking began in the 70s, originally a process where high-pressure water was used to break up the rock. These days, courtesy of what’s commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole,” pushed through by the Bush regime in 2005, natural gas companies are allowed to use whatever liquid they want, no matter how caustic or lethal it might be. Furthermore, the law exempts the drilling companies from having to reveal the contents of their lethal concoctions on the grounds that they’re “trade secrets.” As Fair documents, what’s no secret is that highly toxic amounts of radium have turned up in groundwater running into the water table from these sites recently (ostensibly, there’s supposed to be a buffer zone around each well, although a particularly eerie aerial photo shows a portion of Garfield County, Colorado with wells side by side – from above, the effect is that of a graveyard). And while radium is silently lethal, there’s no ignoring the water in your kitchen sink catching fire, vividly described in Josh Fox’s documentary film Gasland. Gas leases are lucrative: it’s not hard to imagine the residents of a neighborhood or town hit hard by the depression signing up for them en masse, only to discover their property polluted to the point of being unhabitable, never mind unsaleable. Is the current process of hydrofracking the teens equivalent of what munitions manufacturing became in the 90s, a convenient way to dispose of nuclear waste? Fair’s investigation doesn’t carry that far.

He also takes a sobering look at mountaintop clearcutting (a cause famously taken up by activist/gospel bandleader Reverend Billy), where coal companies like Massey Energy basically blast the top off mountains in Appalachia, raining down all sorts of debris, some more toxic than others, on the community below. Ultimately, Fair emphasizes, what’s happened since the invention of the steam engine is that millions of years worth of carbon have been re-released into the environment in the last 250 years, a blink of an eye and the equivalent of an explosion in evolutionary terms. The potentially apocalyptic environmental crises we face today, from global warming, to oil spills, to the highly contested effects of hydrofracking, are the blowback from that explosion. The exhibit is a must-see; it’s up through February 26 at Cooper Union (enter through the back entrance at the main building on the triangle between Bowery and Fourth Avenue at Seventh Street). Hours are Monday-Friday, 12-7 PM, Saturday 12-5 PM.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Art, photography, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Runs for Brooklyn Borough President

With election day 2009 approaching, and no viable option on the ballot for those who are dissatisfied with Marty Markowitz, The Brooklyn What wishes to make formal its write-in campaign for the office of Borough President of Brooklyn, NY.

The local, Brooklyn raised punk rock band has been running informally since summer 2007, when lead singer Jamie Frey and guitarist Evan O’Donnell encountered current Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz at a concert in Coney Island, and informed him that they were not interested in the planned Nets arena in Prospect Heights. “Marty took one look at our shirtless, sweaty, hairy bodies and told us to ‘move out’.” Recalls O’Donnell. “From then on, it was war.” The group titled its first album, released November 28th, 2008 on Pozar Records “The Brooklyn What for Borough President” and Frey and O’Donnell have been heckling Markowitz at public events ever since.

The Brooklyn What’s Top Five Reasons not to vote for Marty:

  • The Proposed Atlantic Yards Project, which illegally uses eminent domain to give land to a private developer for a fraction of its valu, in order to build a basketball arena and several high rise condo buildings in the middle of prospect heights.
  • Marty is Corrupt. The New York Post reported that Markowitz has steered nearly $700,000 in no bid contracts to his personal non-profit, which has also been recipient of $1 million in contributions from who else? Bruce Ratner, the Atlantic Yards developer
  • Marty knocked his only democratic challenger off the ballot.Thanks for the democracy, Marty!
  • Marty Endorses Bloomberg. Bloomberg has made living in this city without a million dollar salary nearly impossible.
  • Marty is Manhattan-izing Brooklyn. Skyscrapers, exorbitant rents, local treasures (Coney Island) turned into tourist traps, sound familiar?

Bring the real Brooklyn back!

The Brooklyn What are a local band, formed in the basement of lead singer Jamie Frey’s parents house. The group has been playing raw, loud, authentic NYC rock & roll to packed, sweaty rooms of New York’s youth since 2006, at venues such as Freddy’s Bar, Don Pedro’s, Trash Bar, Mehanata, and many others across the city. The group’s first album has been hailed as a cult classic.

The Brooklyn What are running for office because they envision a Brooklyn that belongs to everyone, regardless of paycheck size, with room for the diversity of culture that makes Brooklyn truly great.  The group does not feel that the places and people that we all love so much need to be replaced with shinier, more expensive versions of themselves, stripped of all history and feeling. Brooklyn the place is good enough as it is. What the borough really needs is affordable housing, decent jobs at decent wages that last, real options for the kids growing up in this rapidly gentrifying city. The Brooklyn What endorses the UNITY plan for the Atlantic Yards,

If elected, the Brooklyn What promises to rezone all newly built condos and buildable lots not used as community spaces for affordable housing, ban the opening of any more fancy coffee shops or clothing boutiques in working class neighborhoods, create community health and cultural centers throughout the borough, push for a full audit of the MTA, and place the lead perpetrators of the glass condo plague behind bars.

The Brooklyn What can be found at Bar Matchless on November 14th, and Trash Bar on November 20th for further discussion. For more information visit the Brooklyn What home page, the band’s myspace, their Pozar Records page or email thebrooklynwhat [at] gmail.com.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | New York City, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

First AIG, Now “Luxury” Condo Developer to Get Millions in Taxpayer Money?

This just in from Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn: On Sunday troubled insurance giant AIG revealed the counterparties who benefited from the $170 billion taxpayer bailout of the besieged company. $400 million of that bailout would go to a proposed basketball arena, which, if it’s ever built, is already slated to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies funded by New York City, New York State and federal taxpayers, and is reliant on New York state’s use of eminent domain to seize homes and businesses.

Britain’s Barclays Bank was the beneficiary of some $8.5 billion worth of the AIG bailout by US taxpayers. Barclays has a $400 million naming-rights deal for Forest City Enterprises developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed $1 billion Barclays Center basketball arena, the centerpiece of the company’s floundering Atlantic Yards development plan in Brooklyn, New York.

Thus the American taxpayer is, in essence, picking up the tab for a British bank’s $400 million vanity project.

“Why are TARP bailout funds flowing through AIG to a British bank to Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises for a billion dollar arena in Brooklyn? Why are federal taxpayers being forced to pay for Barclays’ marketing scheme? There is no justification for it, especially as TARP funds are supposed to spur banks to start lending again, rather than prop up activities such as the Barclays-Ratner boondoggle,” said Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein. “The federal bailout of AIG was not intended to assist Barclays in hyping its brand in Brooklyn, or to help them slap their logo, for 20 years, no less, on a basketball arena already heavily dependent on city, state and federal subsidies.”

In February there was a political and public uproar over Citigroup’s $400 million naming rights deal for the nearly completed home of the New York Mets—Citi Field—because the financial firm had received $45 billion worth of the TARP bailout.  At the time the New York Daily News reported that the House Financial Services Committee Chair, Congressman Barney Frank, said that:

…Naming rights deals will be off limits for firms taking taxpayer money in the next $350 billion installment of bailout money for banks and financial institutions.

“I’m confident you won’t see anything like that going forward,” in the next bailout round, Frank said.

 

Unlike Citi Field, the proposed Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn has not even broken ground.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | New York City, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Paradigm-Shifting Inaugural Address

[Editor’s note: after eight years of lies and treason from a regime who took power in a bloodless coup d’etat and who maintained that power in a fraudulent election four years later, it was a pleasant change to see an American President simply acknowledging the existence of reality, admitting that this may not be the best of all possible worlds, that all might actually not be well.  Yet Obama’s Inaugural Address goes much further than this. If this is to be taken at face value – which we most fervently hope it is – it is nothing less than a paradigm shift in the fabric of society, a return to the idea of a civilization that exists for the benefit of its citizens rather than for the continued profit of a tiny cabal of ultra-rich swindlers, traitors and mass murderers. And even if we don’t end up meeting all the ideals expressed in the first Obama Inaugural, it is a profoundly insightful commentary on the essential elements of democracy, without which a democratic society cannot function. Perhaps you’ve already read this. If not, please take a few minutes and see what our President has in mind. It cannot fail to inspire you.]

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

 

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

 

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

 

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

 

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

 

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

 

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

 

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

 

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

 

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

 

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

 

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

 

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

 

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

 

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

 

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

 

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

 

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

 

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

 

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

 

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

 

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

 

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

 

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

 

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

 

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

 

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

 

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

 

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

 

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

 

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

 

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet.”

 

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Politics | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to President Obama

First of all, congratulations. You had the truly extraordinary courage to run in the first place, even while all the blowdried blowhards on the small screen were predicting your demise via sniper’s bullet. Even your main competitor for the nomination couldn’t help but wish publicly that you’d be assassinated. What’s become clear throughout this race is that you’re one smart guy, and the way the country has gone in the last several years – going back long before Cheney took power in the 2000 coup d’etat – we’re going to need it. In one small stroke, this country is poised to reclaim a real leadership role in the world, one that may even transcend the beautiful and literally paradigm-shifting moment when we elected you. In so doing, many of us were voting to put an end to racism once and for all, not only rejoicing in the possibility that you would even have won the nomination, but looking forward to the point where an Arab could be President of France or a Jew could be chief executive in Germany. Laughable as these ideas may have been a scant few months ago, they’re not laughable now.

While I don’t want to spoil the party, assuredly you realize that you weren’t elected because the American public wanted you as President. This past election was a referendum on the Bush regime and its failed policies that your Republican rival failed to repudiate. Because he failed to do so, he lost the election. While I’d rather have you in the White House than, say, Donald Duck, Donald Duck could have won this election had he been the Democratic candidate.

 

And what have you won? A conspiracy theorist would be quick to say that Karl Rove is the man behind the curtain here, selecting a Vice-Presidential candidate so repulsive that she’d alienate even the most diehard McCain supporters. Taking the theory to its logical extreme, the Bushites are counting that in four years the economy will be in such tatters that we’ll long for a messianic figure to appear, no matter how much sinister baggage that messiah may bring with him or what far rightwing corner he comes from. You have your work cut out for you, and the sharks are already circling, particularly all the hangers-on from the Clinton administration hungry for another go-round of partying on the Georgetown circuit. And everyone who threw money at you – and god knows, pretty much everyone did – is waiting for their pound of flesh. I don’t think there’s a soul alive who envies you right now.

 

Since you’ve doubtlessly already felt how many knowing nudges in one direction or another, I thought I’d put together my own list. This isn’t a personal wish list. If it was, I’d be asking for more government support of the arts, a shorter work week, free college tuition for those who’ve attained the proper prerequisites, forgiveness of college debt for those enslaved by what the government’s lent them and legalization of recreational drugs. Important as all those ideas are, they can wait. We have far more serious issues to deal with. I can’t say I’ve been thinking about this for a long time so far as it applies to you, because frankly I underestimated the intelligence of the American public: I didn’t think you were going to win. Then again I didn’t think I’d ever live to see the Boston Red Sox win a World Series, or to see Radio Birdman live in concert. So here’s what I’ve come up with, a program for your first hundred days in office:

 

1. Let’s get out of Iraq, now. Bill Richardson style. Let’s bring the troops home before any more American kids get blown up by those nasty oversize grenades the Bush regime euphemistically calls I.E.D.’s. No country has ever had the resources to fight a war while simultaneously tackling the kind of economic crises we face at the moment. Let’s focus our resources where they can actually do some good, here at home. And remember that America still has first dibs on Iraqi oil. You can thank your predecessor for that.

 

2. Speaking of oil, let’s initiate a massive electrification process, the likes of which will make rural electrification back in the 20s and 30s look puny by comparison. America can be 100% energy-independent in ten years if we do it right. GM, Chrysler and Ford on the ropes because nobody’s buying their cars? Don’t forget that virtually every municipality in this country, from Lenox, Massachusetts to Birmingham, Alabama had its own electric light rail system before GM put them out of business. Let’s turn history on its tail and help the Big Three – and local entrepreneurs – retool this country for light rail and public transporation. It can be done because we did it before, without one tenth of the energy-saving technology we have now. And we can do it without nuclear power. Just ask T. Boone Pickens, who’s suddenly seen the light and apparently wants to redeem himself after a lifetime spent as a corporate raider putting people out of work.

 

2A. Then let’s export this technology. You want a Marshall plan for Iraq, or Afghanistan? How about a Marshall plan for the whole world!

 

3. Outlaw speculation. Did you know that in the United States, it’s illegal to speculate in onions? That’s right. Now, quick, name the administration that signed that bill into law: A) FDR. B) Truman. C) Kennedy. D) Teddy Roosevelt. If you answered any of the above, you’re wrong. It was the conservative Eisenhower administration who realized that to allow Wall Street gamblers to drive up the price of onions just so they could afford a few more mansions and private islands is profoundly anti-American. Likewise, allowing Wall Street to rig the price of ANY essential resource, oil, foodstuffs or anything else purely for profit has profound and drastic consequences for average Americans who can’t understand why they can’t afford to buy groceries, heat their homes or take their kids to school anymore. Abolish the toothless Securities and Exchange Commission and replace it with a new Federal office with subpoena and arrest powers. Any of those poor speculators who can’t find work can get a real job. Like picking onions, for example.

 

4. Completely revamp the bank bailout plan. Drawn up and passed under extraordinary pressure from the multimillionaire corporate elite who understood it – none of whom supported you – and ordinary Americans who didn’t, what it essentially does is take all the profits of risky speculation private while taking the losses public. Meaning that taxpayers will be left to pick up the pieces while the speculators who created the mess walk away scot free with every cent they managed to squirrel away before the shit hit the fan. All profits earned by the corporate elite should go to paying down any debt owed by the government for the bailout. Let’s also not forget that the ultimate owner of all that bad mortgage debt is the government: taken to the logical extreme, this means Federal sheriffs will be going around foreclosing in a neighborhood near you. While we shouldn’t issue a blank check to those who took advantage of lax fiduciary oversight to speculate in real estate, we should very seriously consider amnesty for anyone threatened with the loss of a family residence who was swindled by the mortgage lenders.

 

5. Resist the urge to include Clintonistas in your administration. Putting Podesta in charge was a big mistake – unless you’re thinking of pinning the first disaster on him and throwing him to the wolves. My, you’re smarter than we ever thought. Please keep in mind that many of the evils of the Bush regime would not have been possible without precedents created by the Clinton administration, including but not limited to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act (which would have prevented the entire current financial crisis); the GATT treaty that gave Swiss lawyers sovereignty over American citizens, the NAFTA treaty that created that giant sucking sound of jobs being swept overseas, and the welfare bill that made slavery legal again on American soil. All of those were Clinton creations. Clinton beat Bush I by being more of a Republican than he was. Invoking the magic of the Clinton years – what a party, huh? – won’t cut it, policy-wise. It’ll just drive you into the arms of the extreme right who think Clinton was a liberal. And remember: the Clintons are profoundly evil people. Hillary Clinton let her lust for power get the better of her to the point that she wished openly that someone would assassinate you.

 

6. Watch your back. More than ever, now is the time to keep one eye over your shoulder. Keep in mind that the Bush regime completely gutted many offices of government including the CIA and Secret Service, replacing lifelong, patriotic civil servants with Bush sympathizers and apologists. The person who’s watching your back might be the last person you want in that job.

7. Close Guantanamo. Now. Free the innocent bystanders there who had the bad fortune to be out and about while the bounty hunters were rounding up bodies, eager for a handful of American taxpayer dollars that the Bush regime was only too glad to hand over.

 

8. And while we’re at it, how about more government support of the arts, a shorter work week, free college tuition for those who’ve attained the proper prerequisites, forgiveness of college debt for those enslaved by what the government’s lent them, legalization of recreational drugs, and doubling the budget of the Library of Congress? If we got out of the war we could do all that and more.

 

As much as many readers may find this list completely unachievable, remember, that’s what everybody said when Barack Obama first announced his candidacy. If we don’t ask for a mile, we won’t get an inch.

 

Thank you for listening. Now back to the music.

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Rant | Leave a comment

Comedy Review: Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, 10/2/08

Trembling, fidgeting, her face a rictus of anxiety and contempt for the very people she needs to vote for her, Sarah Palin was clearly scared shitless. It was almost enough to humanize her. But not quite. Last night she came across about as authentic as a Chinatown Rolex. Not that Joe Biden seemed like anything other than the Washington insider that he is and has been for many years. Relaxed and confident in his alpha-male role, he pretty much phoned in his lines, although that was sufficient. Conventional wisdom was that if he could avoid condescending to Palin’s vacuousness, this would be an easy victory, and for once the conventional wisdom was right on the money.

 

“I may not answer the questions as the moderator wants to hear,” she rebuffed Gwen Ifill, sticking to her script like a talking Barbie doll, changing the subject on a jarring note whenever she didn’t feel like responding. But Ifill got even. When the gay marriage question came up and Palin made the gaffe of trying to disown her own homophobic disingenuousness, Ifill cut her off. “So the two of you agree!” she told the candidates. Biden kept a poker face.

 

When Biden let slip that he supports using taxpayer money to bail out the hedge funds and the speculators, Palin could have creamed him – just like McCain, she’d played faux-populist on-and-off all night – but totally missed her cue. Apparently it wasn’t in her script. Biden’s lone silly moment was referring to Bosnians as “Bozniaks.” Palin said “nucular” five times, referred to“eye-rack” over and over again (although she did get “Ahmedinejad” right twice) and announced that “more and more revelation, made aware to Americans.” The way she brushed off the failures of the Bush regime was just plain transparent: “There have been huge blunders as there have been throughout every administration.” Otherwise, the debate was a real letdown, at least as far as comedy is concerned.

 

Palin finally got on the scoreboard late in the debate by pointing out that Biden, like every other chickenshit mainstream Dem, had voted for the Iraq war and also for the Patriot Act. She also took him to task by quoting some of the snide things he’d said about Obama during the millisecond before Biden’s presidential campaign ran out of gas. Biden’s lone moment of real courage was when responding to the issue of expanding Vice Presidential power. Reaffirming his commitment to letting Obama run the Executive branch, he noted that “Cheney’s been the most dangerous Vice President in US history.” The crowd watching the debate had been told not to applaud, but his observation drew a clearly audible murmur of approval.

 

Looking forward to January 20, 2009.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Rant | , , , | 2 Comments

The Debate As Ballgame

Early innings:

McCain comes out swinging. Obama can’t find his rhythm, can’t get loose. Everything he throws is hittable. McCain has obvious holes in his swing but Obama can’t find them and McCain takes him deep, again and again. The elephant in the room is the war issue, which instead of coming in and rescuing Obama, sits on the bench and waits. The umpiring (closeted rightwing operative Jim Lehrer) is atrocious: McCain gets every call but not Obama. McCain 6, Obama 0.

 

Middle innings:

“The surge is working.” Yeah, right. Households around the country sneer derisively. McCain has the chance to distance himself from Bush but doesn’t. Obama is still stiff but he’s making sense, chipping away until the score is tied.

 

Eighth inning:

McCain, tiring, can’t keep up on the economy. Obama finally launches one deep into the bleachers. Then another, and another. Can he hold on? Obama 10, McCain 6.

 

Top of the ninth:

Obama finally brings up the war, but only in passing and won’t come up again. McCain, throwing junk, still manages to induce weak swings from Obama, who leaves them loaded.

 

Bottom of the ninth:

A couple of questionable calls from the umpire set up a big inning, but Obama doesn’t help himself and can’t/won’t make the big pitch. The war issue rests in the bullpen, watching and waiting. Final score: McCain 11, Obama 10. Shaky McCain goes the distance on the phony populist tip; Obama comes across as every bit the aloof Harvard grad that he may very well actually be, and whom McCain desperately wants you to believe he is.

 

By the time we get a second debate, the depression will really be in full swing. Will McCain stick to the script? Will Obama finally take the bat off his shoulder? Stay tuned.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Rant | Leave a comment

Memo to the Fed: Lend Me Some Money!

Jello Biafra once joked that the Reagan administration wanted to fund Social Security through sports betting. Now that the Federal Reserve wants to loan money direct to Lehman Brothers and other investment banks so that they can continue speculating, the time has come to open up the Fed to the rest of us. Consider: today the Yankees play a twinbill with this year’s Cinderella team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Tampa is hungry to lock up the AL East championship, while the Yankees are playing out the string and may not finish .500 this year. Let the Fed lend us gambling addicts some ducats so we can put some serious cash on Tampa Bay, both games! Let’s open a Federal Reserve window at OTB! And while we’re at it, let’s make the cost of lottery tickets tax-deductible. Oh yeah…most people who play the lottery don’t make enough money to pay any taxes.

 

And by the way, here’s Sarah Palin doing a sportscast on Alaskan tv back in the 80s. She can read a teleprompter – sort of.  

September 13, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Rant | Leave a comment