Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding, communing with his friend Dzunukwa (click to enlarge)


Kyle on DIY classical -- or rather, post-classical.

Simon Reynolds on rockism at the core of hip hop, with a tasty morsel on Bruce the Reverent Rocker below that.

Jonathan’s indifferent to Bob Dylan -- sometimes I wish I were! No, I’m a lover and a hater, and I love and hate Dylan. "Hate" may be too strong. Maybe.

Sharp thoughts from Carl on Dylan and also on “Dawn of Correction,” an answer song to “Eve of Destruction” I’d never heard of.

My friend Michael on alternative labeling.

First chemo treatment seems to have gone well yesterday, and Dad isn’t reacting badly to it, at least so far. We won’t know for a few weeks whether it’s doing what we hope it to be doing.

My powers of ratiocination are fuzzy wuzzy, muzzy. Softly careening down the echoing puddly well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

massaging the numbers

Negotiations were hot and heavy.

"OK, I tell you what. If you eat 5 more bites, then I'll read a book to you."

"No, six more bites."

"OK, six more bites."

One bite.

"OK, here's bite number 2."

"No, this is bite number 6."

"No, honey, that's not how it works."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Untitled, by Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding, this morning at my sister's house in Chicago

It was good to see everybody at home despite the dread circumstances. Only 1 or 2 percent of stage 4 lung cancer patients live 5 years after the diagnosis. Chemo starts tomorrow. Glad that Dad is taking the bet despite the odds, because to decline the bet is surrender. Got back home to Seattle this afternoon. I'll go back home to Michigan soon.

Don't know how much I'll be posting. It's not that I don't love you, I just got a lot going on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

stage four

The call came from my brother, who was with my dad. It's stage 4 cancer. How many stages are there? Four. It's spread, so surgery is off the table. Dad starts chemo next week. Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding and I fly to Chicago tomorrow, and we either drive straight to Michigan tomorrow night or sleep at my sister's and drive Friday morning. As I type this my head spins. It's what I've been expecting, but I'd been putting it out my mind. 3 rounds of chemo and then a check-up to see whether it's doing any good. Dad's lost maybe 10 pounds. Not a good sign. "Things could progress very rapidly." Nothing is certain, though. Sometimes chemo beats the cancer back for years. Lance Armstrong had stage 4 cancer. My dad has never worn those bicycle shorts, but I'd love to see him in them.

20, 25 years ago, Dad used to offer to cut my hair. With his gear -- buzz cutters. I said, "I will if you will." The summer I was 22 and my brother was 19, we got our heads buzzed just for the heck of it. Dad didn't join. Now he's going bald. I may buzz my head. We'll see. I've been bald 3 times before; a buzz wouldn't be so bad.

In other dire news, still no word from my friend H's relatives in New Orleans. 2 cousins and an uncle still missing. "No news isn't bad news," he said today. Hope he's right.

And my heart goes out to everybody in the new hurricane's path. A co-worker of my spouse's has an 80-something grandmother in Galveston. She's not budging.

No posting after tonight for at least 6 days. Fare thee well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The "Papa Oo-Mow-Mow" Fallacy

Aficianados know that the Trashmen plagiarized the tune and a lot of the words of "Papa Oo Mow Mow" when they wrote their immortal "Surfin' Bird." This might call into question my contention the other day that "Surfin' Bird" was unprecedented in popular music. But despite their identical choruses and copied words, the songs are crucially, drastically different.

The earlier song comments on its own absurdity, in the tradition of many early rock (and early swing) songs. The Trashmen did away with the treble melody of the earlier song, stripping the song to its chanted chorus, "Papa oo mow mow." The treble melody which overlay the chanted chorus in the earlier song commented on the chant:

Funniest sound I ever heard
But I can't understand a single word

"Surfin' Bird," by contrast, enacts absurdity without comment. Don't you know about the bird? Well everybody knows that the bird is the word, a well a bird bird bird, the bird's the word.

I can't tell you how much I love this song. A lot of the wisdom of Chuang Tzu and William Blake is in it. And I revere those names.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Chuck Baudelaire, about to hock a loogie

The Modern and the Present

After getting schooled (in the best and friendliest way [scroll down]) by Franklin about "Language" Poetry, I decided to do some more reading up on it. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris's 20th century anthology "For the Millennium" has a useful precis: In "Language" Poetry, language itself becomes the subject. Coming as it did in the early '70s, "Language," which always struck me as a silly name for the genre, now seems like well-thought-out marketing, like a good band name. (Not casting asparagus here -- it took me more than four years to come up with my current band's name, and now might as well be the time to publicly unfurl it: Ruby Thicket.) Because coming as it did in the early '70s, and being primarily concerned as it was with the primary materials of its art, of its being, the logical art-historical name for it would have been minimalism. Except, maybe not, because musical minimalism was already misnomered on the map. But art minimalism shares many features with langpo -- a dryness of affect and tone, an obsession with the history as well as with the materials of its art, an asceticism. What we now call minimalism in music would much better be called "pulse music," because, while the old familiar stuff of Riley, Reich, and Glass developed from the truly minimalist works of LaMonte Young and John Cage, it really was doing something different. Reich's "Piano Phase" and Riley's "In C" and a few other really early pieces share the affect-less asceticism and primary interest in primal materials with art minimalism and langpo, but the style quickly attained affect and the composers quickly drew their primary attention away from the history of their artform and toward their listeners. Which is a good thing! (I'm putting this polemically, but I don't think too unfairly.)

Franklin is right that the Langpoets weren't all "asyntactical," as I badly put it, and that their consideration of their primary materials -- words and their combinations -- led them to a disjunctive aesthetic, either syntactically or by non sequiter.

And as David Antin has pointed out, a commitment to the disjunctive is part of what defines a modernist -- 20th century -- approach to the arts.

Reading Antin and thinking about Langpo led me to page through some of the essays of the art critic Harold Rosenberg, who coined the phrases "Action Painting" (as an alternative, more descriptive name for Abstract Expressionism) and "the tradition of the new," his wonderful slogan for modernism. In an article from the '60s on an art-history conference whose subject was "searching for the present," Rosenberg credited Baudelaire with founding the tradition of linking vitality in the arts to "the modern." This pleased me, since I had recently linked modernism and dandyism, and Baudelaire is the founder of the latter as well.

Since Baudelaire's time, one of history's milder ironies has made a word that originally meant "up to date" out of date, and so when people say "modern," we usually either mean "back then," or we're joking. The joke is complex, a sardonic admission of our lost faith in progress. And even though the old stand-bys of progress -- medicine and technology -- continue to develop -- we can all see that medicine continues to find new cures, and technology continues to go smaller and faster and cheaper -- we are now more conscious of the un-itemized costs -- environmental, psychic, economic -- of progress.

Instead of saying "modern" to mean "up to date," people now say "the present." Antin has talked about the need to be connected to the present. And Jane Dark just posted a really nice piece on contemporary poetics that's all about the need for connection to the present. The poetics presented are not dogmatic; as Jane rightly says, "Poems are indeed free to do anything but leave the present." (Another gem from Jane's gem-filled post: "history’s present is changeable, and . . . one proceeds without any certainty about results." Yes.) But Jane's stylistic interest in Godard's montage sheds welcome light on the Langpo and post-Langpo question. The montage is a species of the disjunctive; in other words, it's intimately tied up with early 20th century aesthetics -- it's old-fashioned now. I write songs in the styles of rockabilly, Tin Pan 32-bar, talking blues, 12-bar blues -- I have nothing against old-fashioned, being myself the fuddiest of duddies. In fact, I even love the Mercer-Kern song, "I'm Old Fashioned." Very quite a lot. ("I love the moonlight . . . Sighing sighs, holding hands, these my heart understands.") But the focus on the disjunctive is another way of cutting the contemporary poetry pie. Ron Silliman's post-avant differs from what he calls the "School of Quietude" by the post-avant's allegiance to the disjunctive; the Poetry Slammers lack this allegiance and so escape notice. (Though not from everybody -- Jordan's hip to them, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Jane were too.) I am sure that there is an epistemological argument to be made as to why a disjunctive aesthetic has a power of apprehending aspects of the present that a non-disjunctive aesthetic lacks; whatever the merits of such an argument -- and I'm not discounting them (John Berger has made such an argument, persuasively) -- as a reader/listener, I have found aspects of the present apprehended in poems of poetry slammers that disjunctivists have missed.

The present, dude, the present is a procreating gift.


Went with the family to the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup on Saturday. Walking past a stage we heard a few minutes of a cover band doing a fine imitation of Orbison's "Pretty Woman." Looked out at the audience of 60-somethings sincerely rocking out. Rock and roll is old people's music. Nothing against old people, and nothing wrong with old people's music -- my parents are the youngest of the swing generation, just a few years younger than Elvis and Bill Wyman and a few years older than the Beatles and Beach Boys and Dylan; when rock and roll hit their musical sensibilities were already formed and though they didn't dislike rock and roll it didn't really reach them -- to them, it was just another style, which is what it has since become again.

Its partisans, though, say rock is an Extra Special genre, its Extra Specialness having to do with Dionysus and/or social seriousness and/or liberation and/or rebellion. I'll go along with this in one respect: "Surfin' Bird" was pretty unprecedented in popular music. R. Meltzer opened his mad ontological rock manifesto "The Aesthetics of Rock" with a transcription of the entire mad lyrics of "Surfin' Bird" -- and thanks to the internet, I can quote them too, without the bother of typing:

A-well-a, everybody's heard about the bird
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, well, the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, don't you know about the bird
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word

A-well-a, everybody's heard about the bird
Bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, don't you know about the bird
Well, everybody's talking about the bird
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
A-well-a, bird

Surfin' bird
Bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb, aaah


Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-oom-oom-oom
Oom-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-a-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, ooma-mow-mow
Well, don't you know about the bird
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word
A-well-a, bird, bird, b-bird's the word

Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow...

Meltzer's book came out within a couple years of Jerome Rothenberg's anthology of worldwide traditional oral poetry, "Technicians of the Sacred," which featured incantatory ritualistic poetry not unlike "Surfin' Bird." The Trashmen's song is Over the Top. I agree with Meltzer that rock can go Over the Top more easily than other genres -- it takes less conventional musical technique to go Over the Top a la the Trashmen than in the manner of John Coltrane or Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The aesthetics of "Over the Top" is an inner aesthetic that resists categorization or systematization. I hear it in late Judy Garland and in Bobby Darin's swing covers -- an excess of fervor. Most rock lacks it, and that's fine -- I have no problem with rock being just another genre. And I love it wherever I find it. The bird is the word!

Sunday, September 18, 2005


I read David Antin's new book, "i never knew what time it was," a few weeks ago.

I haven’t read this interview with him, but the intro paragraph gives an idea. This interview happened before his 3rd book of Talk Poems. The one I just read is his 4th. For me, his work really took off with his 3rd book, "what it means to be avant-garde," when he gave his talks over more to telling stories, and lightened up on the modernistic stance. His description of modernism feels right to me. I don't think he'd mind that I don't remember exactly how he put it. A commitment to the disjunctive is a big part of the modern, since Stein and Apollinaire "and the rest." Since his talks are improvised, and the mind is naturally disjunctive anyway, and since his transcription technique for his improvised talk poems is uniquely his own, his stuff fo' sho' is modern. But as it has turned away from the disjunctive, it has deepened in emotional resonance and impact, according to the stories he's had to tell at the time. And he can be defensive about how funny his talks can be, and therefore how close to "entertainment" they become -- he's definitely attached to the notion of being an "artist" as opposed to an entertainer. Which is in itself kind of funny, and sweet and endearing in its snobbishness. But it's also sincere -- he really doesn't care if his talks veer off into the abstruse and opaque, if that's where his thinking takes him. His mandate, unlike a "storyteller" or "monologuist" or "comic," is not to be poignant or moving or funny, though he is often all these things; his mandate is to think.

He's in his mid 70s now, so for many years he's been having to deal with aging and dying parents and uncles and aunts, and many of his stories in his last 2 books have been about that. It's an emotional topic, obviously. And it's a measure of his fidelity to his self-claimed mandate that in most pieces I remember being struck by his thoughts more than by his stories, as poignant as they often are.

As the title would indicate, one of the major threads in his new book, "i never knew what time it is," is the topic of time. It's one of the most mysterious and all-pervasive topics in the world, and he characteristically has some resonant things to say about it. Again, I'm going to honor his method by paraphrasing from memory, not quoting.

Time, he says, is how we measure change. And he makes the standard observation that time passes in different speeds. Something I've noticed as I've grown older -- in general it seems to pass more quickly now. Two ways to look at this, I tell my cohorts -- it either means we're having fun, or it starts rolling faster once we get over the hill. Or maybe both.

Antin also describes a distinction he makes between plot and narrative. Plot is story or event from the external point of view. Narrative is the inner story, and it has to do with the efforts the characters make either to effect or avoid a transformation. Marriage, getting a job, graduating from school could all be transformations that characters tend to work toward making happen. Death would be a transformation to avoid for most people, as my family is dealing with now. (I'll be updating this post on my dad’s cancer as I feel like it, rather than always making new posts about it. I may or may not make new posts on it as changes continue to happen.)

I've usually been casual about time, to the point of rudeness and self-destructiveness. I try not to be late to appointments any more. But I've always been struck by that word "deadline." Some transformations really are irrevocable, and "deadline" alludes to one of the big ones.

Antin has known a lot of people in the art world for 50 years now, and he has a lot of stories as well as interesting observations and insights and resonant descriptions of complex phenomena. A friend of his once tried to talk H. R. Haldeman into hiring Herbert Marcuse for a job (Haldeman was on the board). Marcuse had previously thundered that Antin's wife a sophist. Many amusing anecdotes, only some with such famous names. Glad to have read the book, sure to re-read parts of it.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

My son and my dad, working on a construction project a few months ago.

We found out this week that my dad, who just turned 67, has cancer in his lungs and his lymph nodes. Not completely sure about the type of cancer; no prognosis yet. Preparing for the worst, hoping for recovery.

Might not be writing much for a while. Then again, I might be -- don't know. Words words words words words . . . don't always do the job -- and then again, they can be comforting distractions too -- and then, the world continues its spinning, and that's lovely too -- and then, my mind goes up in smoke or a breath of fog, a yawn, poof, gone -- what was that?

Dad -- best of fathers, best of grandfathers. Hoping he sticks around for another 15, 20, 25 years. We'll see.

UPDATE, Sunday: The kid and I fly to Michigan on Thursday for 6 days. Wanting to see Dad before he gets really visibly sick. This week-end has been easier than during the week; it's easier to be a mope when I don't have to get a lot done, and it's easier not to mope when I'm hanging out with the kid -- even when he's not delightful, he's almost always absorbing in a way that isn't alienating, as work is, even work that's for a good cause. We'll see how tomorrow goes. Last week, it was, work work work work work, and burst into tears as soon as I walk out of the office.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Spoke today with an employee of an agency that shares the building with my agency. I'll call him H. H is a short, wiry, 50-ish African American man from the south, one of the most upbeat people I've met; religious; writes sweet ceremonial rhymes for office occasions. The first time I took my son to the office to introduce him to everybody, a few weeks after he was born, H said, "Isn't it just amazing when they're this age? It's like they got one toe here on earth and the other 9 still up in heaven. Say hello to God for me, OK?" I'm culturally and emotionally Protestant Christian but philosophically agnostic in sectarian matters; what H said was one of the most beautiful things anybody said in those first engulfing weeks of Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding's life.

Today, in the men's room, H told me what's going on. Like I said, I knew he was from the south, but I'd forgotten from where.

"You know that Charity Hospital they were always talking about in New Orleans? I was born there. It's like a little piece of my heart is gone. I grew up in St. Louis but we spent summers in New Orleans, running up and down Canal Street. My parents lived in East New Orleans, one of the most flooded areas, until a few months ago, when they sold their condo and made a little money and moved to Arizona. It would be bad if they were still there. My dad's diabetic. They would have been some of the people going up on the roof, except now you can't see the roof, the whole neighborhood's under water. Everybody's accounted for except 2 cousins and an uncle. Everybody else got in a car and drove to my sister's in St. Louis. My uncle is about 80; he's probably one of those people who said, 'Hell no, I'm not leaving.' My cousins are relatively young -- I'm sure they'll pop up somewhere, they're strong. My uncle, I'm sure he's OK because he's so mean. I feel sorry for those rescue workers. My uncle's one of those people who'd say, 'Get the hell out of here,' and the rescue workers would cower, 'Oh, OK, can we give you some water?' 'Sure, I'll take the water, now get the hell out of here!' I'm sure they'll all turn up."

He sounded upbeat, but I don't quite believe that he completely believes himself. "I hope you're right," I said.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


A cop just came to our door. He called first. My beloved spouse was selling an old printer on Craig’s List. The buyer lives way down in a south suburb, but a friend works at the East Precinct a few blocks up the road, and would it be alright if he came by after his shift, as long as we didn’t mind a cop showing up at our door? A friendly, burly guy in his early 50s, he asked my son his name, and my son said, “Nat, but sometimes I call myself Madeline.” His diction is that of a 2-and-a-half-year-old’s, so I’m not sure the cop understood what he said.

“He calls himself all sorts of things,” I said, “Like Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding.”

“Yeah!” said Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding. (Pronounced, “weah.”)

We introduced ourselves to each other and the cop, Ron, explained that his friend needed the old printer because the program they use to score water skiing tournaments won’t communicate with new printers. My beloved spouse came downstairs with the printer and said, “Hi, are you Cynthia’s boyfriend?”

The cop was taken aback. I was surprised too.

Cynthia works with my wife and had talked about her water-skiing boyfriend Ron who’s a cop at the East Precinct, so my wife knew. Ron’s next stop was dinner with Cynthia. We’ll see Cynthia tomorrow night at a work event of my wife’s.


Picked up today a CD of Andy Griffith singing. No credits other than the lead singer (Griffith) and a song listing. Not a bad singer, the album is an odd mix of bluegrass-with-drums, upbeat blues, and various folksy things. One song includes a couple verses from Canned Heat’s (presumably later) hit “Going Up the Country”; he also covers Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special.” I wonder if maybe it’s close to a minstrel mix of material.

Also got a CD of Vivaldi’s “4 Seasons” put out by a restaurant, for “an extraordinary dining experience.” No credits other than a song listing -- no ensemble, no soloist, no conductor, no recording date or place information. Not as showy as Nigel Kennedy’s take, which is the fastest I’ve heard. I like the CD’s anonymity -- it’s all about Vivaldi, all about the music. And the extraordinary dining, of course! (Coincidentally, we had it on while eating one of the best salmon dinners I ever cooked. Though “extraordinary” is pushing it.)

Also bought a $10 book-and-toy for Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding, because he liked it. A tiny, in-tune monophonic keyboard, and a tiny, battery-powered, highly distorted microphone and amp and speaker, to go along with a little songbook. He really liked both what he cutely called the “pianio” and the microphone. I may use them for recording -- the mic-amp-speaker combo may work to get a gritty Chicago blues harp sound.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mind aswirl with images and heart swimming in emotion, big emotion. Big, but not like an epic Bruuuce song. I saw Springsteen Live! on PBS a while ago, and the arpeggiating piano licks and quasi-symphonic climaxes made me realize -- his stuff is Pomp Rock, a la Styx or Kansas! I wonder why it's never occurred to me before. I've always liked scrawny, myself. Danny Whitten's scratchy rhythm on Neil's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" album, or Herman's Hermits! I heard "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" the other day, and I just love that plinky faux-ukulele electric rhythm guitar. I mentioned it to my dear friend the wonderful musician John de Roo, who turned me onto Herman's Hermits in the mid-'70s in junior high school (John turned me onto the rest of the British Invasion and Dylan and the Sex Pistols too). He told me that the actual band Herman's Hermits only played on their first 3 hits, "Mrs. Brown," "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good," and "I'm Henry the 8th I Am," which John pointed out has a great plinky pseudo-surf-style lead guitar lick, and that slick, stylistically bland studio musicians played on the others. Well, all hail Derek “Lek” Leckenby, that's what I have to say about it.

Lots to say about other things too, but not right now. Sweet night, good dreams.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Me and my son a couple days ago,
looking at the one we love the most, who held the camera.

(I bought the small guitar for $40 on a road trip.
I can play it while riding in the passenger seat.)


Getting close on finishing my band's album -- me finishing my band's album -- paradox -- it really is a band, with 4 singers and group arrangements, but I'm paying for the recording and wrote all the songs and convened the ensemble and have veto power over arrangement ideas -- no, no slapping thighs on this song, handclaps only -- sorry! I really want that sharp, percussive sound. I'm excited about the songs and the arrangements and mostly pleased with the performances. A couple things I'd change if it didn't require starting from zero and doing the song over. I suspect there will always be a couple things I'd change. Found out the other day that one of the band's two main singers may be moving away, because her dad may be very sick. So we may have an album but no band. Here's hoping the news about her dad this week is good.


"At times, when a worried mind impedes good digestion, it is a good idea to find distraction in play and pleasure. Games of chess, of cards of various kinds are good, so long as they are played without anger and indigation which are bad for digestion, whereas hearty laughter is good. Above all, there must be no cheating or avarice which deprive the game of all liberality and are to be detested, and arguments also produce no pleasure. Both the fear of losing and the immense desire to gain can provoke quarrels. If you must quarrel, let it not be soon after dinner, but only after you have enjoyed it. The stomach needs natural warmth, little motion and little mental agitation; otherwise it becomes weak and unable to produce its digestive juices." -- Bartolomeo de' Sacchi, De Honesta Voluptate, the first printed cookbook, 1475, quoted in The Delectable Past by Esther B. Aresty, 1964.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


A few years ago I noticed that a downtown McDonald's started blasting country music on outdoor speakers in order to ward off African American teen-agers who liked hanging out on that corner. That's why it was no surprise that the Bush administration decided to top off its nationalist fever commemorative mass-murder-of-Americans special 9-11 atrocity march today with a country music concert. Not an American music concert, a country music concert. White people's music. In the 1968 Presidential election, most country musicians backed the segregationist candidate, George Wallace. Nashville boasts more liberals now than it did then, but the music still signifies exclusive whiteness, and to many people it signifies racism. It doesn't signify racism to me, except when people use it in racially hostile ways. And I have every reason to believe that the Bush administration intends that signification, at least subterraneanly to its many racist supporters. (Digby has stuff on the Republicans' plan to stoke a racist backlash against the New Orleans victims of the hurricane.).

And if the Bush administration didn't mean its commemorative country music concert to signify exclusive whiteness, then what the hell are they thinking? An American popular music celebration-event that includes no African American music? If it's not intentional racism, it may be THE stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life.
"There was little that the Nazis had to add to the negative image of the Jew they had inherited from Martin Luther or from the Pan-German anti-Smites of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In every instance, the Jew was depicted as an enemy within the gates, a criminal and a kind of plague or species of vermin. Gil Eliot has observed that such images ascribe to an adversary or a potential victim a paranthropoid identity. As Eliot has asserted, once a human being has been stripped of his human and given a paranthropoid identity, the normal moral impediments cease to operate." -- Richard L. Rubenstein, The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future, 1974

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I asked about this the other day, and I’ve since found out: The New Orleans musicians I remember having heard play are alive.

Here’s hoping the early estimates on numbers of hurricane deaths are wildly high of the mark.
Via my friend oblomova, a remembrance of empty tough talk from our empty tough-talker-in-chief.

“America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.”

Emergency preparedness and response are keys to national security. Everybody knows that.

TV should be pushing for the trial of George W. Bush. It’d be a heckuva show. And it just might serve justice and America’s best interests to boot.

Why Republicans defend FEMA’s act . . . do they really put party above country, above human life? I guess so.

One of the Seattle dailies published a letter from my beloved spouse on Thursday, “When a relief operation is anything but that.” Keep those cards and letters going, friends. Stand up, be counted, lift every voice, you know it makes me wanna shout, Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don't understand

Friday, September 09, 2005

The destruction of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast is becoming normal. The shock and outrage are subsiding, the grief -- for those not directly affected -- is dissipating.

Normal life -- for those not directly affected -- has gone on. I just haven't felt much like talking about it.

After the last election, I was in a foul, dark mood for a couple months.

I don't want the shock and outrage to subside.

I worked with homeless people for 8 years, and my wife still does. In the early '80s, during the first explosion of homelessness of the current relentless wave, a lot of people were shocked and outraged, and a lot of people talked about solving the problem. It's long since become a normal part of America. I hope that the displaced of New Orleans living in giant, dehumanizing shelters does not become normalized.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I want to talk about Bush and FEMA in terms of Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. Mass murderers (we knew this about Bush -- see "Shock and Awe"). Enemies of America. Menace 2 Society. Refusing to let volunteers who wanted to bring aid into New Orleans -- incredible. Maybe I'm being unfair -- maybe Bush & FEMA are different than McVeigh & bin Laden in the way that manslaughter by drunk driving is different than murder by gunshot. They both end up with people dead and they're both felonies, but there's a difference in intentionality. I'm willing to listen to FEMA and Bush's defense that the mass deaths they caused weren't intentional. But they should be on trial.

My fantasy is that Bush flees the country to avoid trial for his crimes and sits out the rest of his life as a guest of the dictator of Uzbekistan. I don't support the death penalty, but Bush does. Run, you son of a bitch, before you lose your life to the hangman.

("S.O.B." is a phrase I normally avoid, a person's parentage being irrelevant, but in this case it's appropriate.)
Oblivious, in denial, dangerous.

That's how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described President Bush after meeting with him today.

"What didn't go right?" asked Bush, about FEMA's performance after the hurricane.

If you're American, please call your Congress people and tell them you agree with Representative Pelosi. They need encouragement.

It's gonna be a haul. Here's hoping the R's don't crank up a massive backlash against the displaced people because they're black. Here's hoping.

I've been listening to lots of New Orleans music. A '60s recording of an old song, "Mardi Gras Mambo," on a compilation of "New Orleans Party Music," reminds me of my last trip to N.O., back in December. During a night of fabulous music at Preservation Hall, somebody requested "Mardi Gras Mambo" and the band did a lovely lightly swinging bouncing buoyant version. The trumpeter, William Smith, sang lead. I talked to him briefly between sets. Wonderful musician -- the whole band was wonderful, one of the best bands I've ever seen. I hope they're alive.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

They all believed they were sent to the Convention Center to die.

What's the motivation for refusing to let people walk out of New Orleans? I can think of two. 1) Racism -- the people are black and the Bush Administration did not want them out and on their own. Fear of marauding.

2) Mass murder. Maybe the Bush Administration wanted the starvation and the feces to drive the people crazy violent, which would require a "war" response -- "subdue the crowds" -- murder.

People who call such talk crazy hateful partisan need to explain something: Why not let the Red Cross feed people?

How many people did FEMA kill?

Ghastly. Evil defies explanation.
I called my Congressman and he said, quote,
I'd like to help you son but, well, but, . . .

I only spoke with staffers. They seemed happy as long as I talked about "doing all you can to hold the President accountable for FEMA's failure to respond."

When I started talking about "impeachment" or "holding off on Court appointments until we determine whether the President should go to jail," the staffers' voices turned clipped and annoyed. And my people are Democrats -- Rep. McDermott & Senators Murray and Cantwell.

It's horrifyingly simple. FEMA failed, massively. Not even a question of disarray -- simple nasty things like refusing to let the Red Cross enter New Orleans to FEED PEOPLE because, according to FEMA's sick and nasty mind, if people saw free food from the Red Cross, they might not leave. That's the OFFICIAL EXCUSE. Meanwhile, Bush compliments the people in charge and NOBODY GETS FIRED.

Why are we even considering letting this man appoint anybody to anything? He should be on trial.

There's no point in cataloguing the horrors if we don't put pressure on people to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Call your Congressional reps and Senators. Please. Crank up some music you love and tell your representatives what you would like them to do. (I was listening to Fats Domino when I made my calls, as the 2-year-old tore around the house yelling about something or other.) It was depressing to get the response I got; still, glad to have done it, because without action, there's nothing but rebuilding and waiting for the next disaster. Rebuilding is important; waiting for the next disaster is infuriating.

Monday, September 05, 2005


The number one priority of Congress right now is to figure out why it took so long for food, water, and medical attention to get into New Orleans, and why it took so long for people to get out. We need to figure out how this happened so we can make sure that it doesn't happen again.

This is not a partisan issue, this is about national security, this is about the safety of all Americans. If the Republicans turn this into a partisan issue, in 2006 the major campaign issue in every district in the country will be: why Republicans think the response to Katrina was fine.

The budget for homeland security this year is 28 billion and 900 million dollars. Katrina gave us a two day warning. A terrorist wouldn't. We need to know what went wrong here.

Honestly, this is not the only number one priority. The other one is dealing with the vast scope of catastrophic problems still unfolding in the Gulf.

And oh yeah, the other Gulf.

Court appointments can wait.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


My wife pointed this out.

siege n.

1. The surrounding and blockading of a city, town, or fortress

A siege entails:

  1. Not letting people out.
  2. Not letting food and essential supplies in.
  3. Cutting off communications.

It appears the siege is over. Whether deliberate or not, what the Republican Administration did was an act of war against our fellow citizens.

I wish we had a strong opposition party we could turn to, who would do everything they could to hold the ruling party accountable for what can only be called, at best, their gross dereliction of duty, and what may be something far worse. I’m calling my Congressman and Senators on Tuesday.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


billmon and a dailyKos diarist have compelling evidence that the delay in aid to New Orleans and surrounding environs has been deliberate.

When Bush praises the people in charge, it certainly feels deliberate. He couldn’t fire them if they were carrying out his orders. If he has any sense at all, they’re fired, pronto.

If unintentional, it was gross dereliction of duty and worthy of court martial. The buck stops at the top. If intentional, it was a pre-meditated crime against humanity.

How many people died because of the delay in aid? As soon as the situation stabilizes, let the investigations begin.

“As soon as the situation stabilizes” may be a great big fantasy right now.

How many hundreds of thousands of unemployment checks will have to be written next month in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama?

Where will people end up? How will destroyed communities be rebuilt? How will surrounding communities absorb the influx of people, temporarily for some and permanently in many cases?

Best case scenario -- things get built or rebuilt. No guarantee that it will happen. Gaza along the Gulf?

Some scenes of aid delivery shown on TV have been temporary stage sets.

And how many dead.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hoping the evacuation and the delivery of supplies are going well. There'll be time to count the dead and afix the blame where we already know it belongs -- for now, between tears and outrage, just hoping whoever's still alive keeps on making it through this disaster.

Update, 1:00 am: This diary on DailyKos has a link to footage of Fox news reporters losing their composure and yelling at the anchors. The government had (has? don’t know the chronology) locked down New Orleans, not allowing anybody to walk out on passable roads. One of the reporters, almost in tears, holds up a baby and begs the government to let the people walk out, saying Why, Why, Why, 6 days after the hurricane, Why Have the People Not Gotten Food?

Is this deliberate? I had thought -- deliberate incompetence and heartless indifference, but now it feels, I have to ask, is this deliberate malevolence?

The invasion of Iraq proved they were monsters. The media let all their lies slide. But New Orleans is home. The monsters think they can blithely lie, having easily lied for 6 years straight now, but this is home.

Amoral gangsters have seized the government.
THIS IS A COW (click on image to enlarge)

So says the sculptor, Nat, the resident 2.5 year old.


Potty training is going well. He's graduated to underpants during the day, with few problems after the first couple weeks. My beloved spouse, Flo, reported this conversation from a few days ago.

Nat, to the next door neighbor: "Catherine, I'm wearing underpants!"

Catherine: "That's great!"

Nat: "They're blue! What color are your underpants?"

Flo: "Nat! You don't ask grown ups about their underpants!"

Catherine: "That'll just be between you and me, Nat."


We have chickens. Natasha, one of the two 8-year-olds, died last night. She was the best of chickens, friendly and mellow. Her twin, Karen, who still lives, has always been meaner. Karen beat up on the younger set when they were adolescent chicks. Natasha ignored them. When the younger set grew up, they beat up on Karen. They ignored Natasha. She knew how to get along, to live and let live; she didn't embroil herself in conflict.

Trivial home life stuff. When Icarus fell, the plowing went on.
It's the ideology, stupid.

"Big government is the problem."

So, the anti-public Republican Party works to make sure it doesn't work.

Why, 5 days later, people are still stuck in New Orleans: The feds don't know where to take them. Their anti-public ideology forbids the Republican government from commandeering all the hotels in the 300 mile radius and booking them for the next 4 months for the hurricane victims. No money to help middle class and poor people. It's a logistical problem. "Get on the bus to nowhere."

The Astrodome? Maybe for a week. People need something better than that, and they will for many months, and many of them -- maybe most -- will forever. Our problems are only beginning.

Thinking about this, I thought, well, I guess I'll just have to pray that the President has a change of heart, and decides that the Constitutional mandate to "promote the general welfare" will require higher taxes and a pro-active pro-government stance. And then I started sobbing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Reading about the chaos and suffering in New Orleans today. A woman tried to give away her baby to a stranger on a departing transport. She was that despairing. That got me.

* * *

Before the election I predicted that Bush's re-election would augur a significant drop in U.S. life expectancies within 10 or 15 years. I may have been too optimistic. It may be more like 5.

* * *


Got a nice, informative email from Franklin in response to my post the other night on “Language” poetry, a/k/a langpo, which I tried to re-dub "asyntactilism." I agree with what Franklin has to say. The "Zaum" poet he cites is the great Russian futurist Khlebnikov.

Here's Franklin:

Interesting post (on meditative v. oratorical and all that). I don't know if I agree that the split you describe is -the- major one, any more than others that have been proposed, but it's worth hearing different distinctions than the ones that are always trotted out.

Re langpo, 3 or 4 quick notes: I think that "capitalism swallowed my syntax"/your "Asyntacticism" (a truly academic sounding coinage) only describes one portion of the stuff (an important one) that sailed under the langpo flag -- most of Silliman's work, for instance, is perfectly syntactical on the sentential level, but could be called a-narrative, taken in larger units. And I think different poets have used the non-syntactic move to different ends: Some, I think, are representing a sort of disordered state of mine (produced, perhaps, by "capitalism," whatever that is), while others are, perhaps incoherently, trying to use language to say something that "capitalism" doesn't want it to. The first group (Bruce Andrews, e.g.) are, perhaps, more influenced by Surrealism; the second (Leslie Scalapino, e.g.), are, I'd wager, taking a page from Wittgenstein and flipping it: if the limits of my language are the limits of my world, perhaps I can imagine new wordly possibilities by distorting language. (Actually, that sounds surrealist-ish too, now that I write it out.)

I think also, to their credit, that many of the langpos (and especially fellow travelers who published in some of the same places) noticed by, oh, the '80s, that they weren't all doing the same thing after all -- there's been much more divergence in the positions, and the poetry, since.

You're right of course about the various predecessors -- though, at a wild guess, I would bet Cendrars was much more widely read by "New York School" types than langs per se; and various Russians (Mayakovsky, the zaum guy whose name I can't spell offhand) would have to be added to the short list.

And I also agree that much of the poetry is much closer to "lyric" than it originally appeared -- so damn hard to get that "I" that isn't supposed to exist not to manifest itself, if only as "the author function."
Why is this not a state of national emergency?

Why has not every helicopter in the country been mobilized to get people out of New Orleans?

I'm calling my Senators.

UPDATE, 7:58 AM. Exercise in futility. I called and left messages for my Senators. As if That Man would heed the advice of any Democrat.

Hoping my reaction is standard panic, and I've overestimated the possibility that tens of thousands of people may starve to death in New Orleans, thousands of hospital patients may die as back-generators run out of juice. Here's hoping my panic is misplaced.

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