30 March 2008

Black & White Photography and the Tyranny of Color

Marian and Alex 1986 2

Alex and Marian, 1986

...Allow me to propose a couple of new art laws. The first would be that all blues music shall now be performed with a full compliment of strings, woodwinds and brass. No more will a single man with a lone guitar perform blues music. Think of the absurdity of the Boston Pops attempting "Boom, Boom, Boom." And I will propose a second new art law: All written communication shall henceforth be in novel form. Absurdity again. Now we will have to do 500 pages to express William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" and spend 300 pages alone to describe the white chickens...

...If Williams would have used 500 pages to do “The Red Wheelbarrow,” it would have never been read, and if it had, it wouldn’t have made any sense. Had John Lee Hooker been forced to round up a full orchestra to perform, the unique character and power of his music would have been buried in a hundred layers of violins and clarinets. It would lose its voice. Its vision would be completely obscured by a sea of superfluous sound...

...To bring this around, it is my contention that the black and white photograph is a medium in itself with a distinctive voice and vision. The black and white acts upon our brains differently than a color photo. I believe that black and white remains valid and even necessary in our palette of media. To surrender black and white to the tyranny of color would be equivalent to the loss of blues, jazz, poetry and short stories in favor of symphonies and novels. There are some ideas that symphony orchestras and novels just don't get across very well....

Read the whole article here
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28 March 2008

I Apologize, Uh, " I Profoundly Regret"

Florida’s legislature voted Wednesday to “Profoundly Regret” it’s participation in, and state sponsorship of slavery. Like most in the handful of other states to express similar sentiment, (five states, including Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia), Florida stopped short of using the word Apology.
Florida has already taken the step of paying reparations to victims of the “Rosewood Massacre”. (In 1994, $2.1 million was paid to survivors of a racially motivated attack on the North Florida town in 1923). so, like their state counterparts, these boneheads didn't want the inconvenience of having the word Apology being construed as a commitment to further reparations. To a state, the few miserable legislatures to stand up and publicly denounce the state sponsorship of slavery, could not bring themselves to issue, and codify into law, an Apology. Why bother?
I Apologize, Uh, " I Profoundly Regret"
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23 March 2008

The Lost Weekend, Abbreviated

I think it’s over for now. Fortunately, there were no limousines, no bills for a dozen bottles of Dom Perignon, no Hyatt Regency tabs in a strange city, no gifts for friends and strangers, or urgent phone calls in the middle of the night with new insights or sure-fire business strategies. I got off easy this time. (Maybe my friends and family don’t think so.) You see, if I emailed Syd one time in the last ten days, I emailed him 50. All of them were important, (or so I thought), and were written with a sense of urgency and flight. For this year’s outburst, Syd, I am sorry. (That also goes for John, my family, and any other poor soul who was in my path.)

If it’s going to happen, it usually happens in the fall or early Spring, when light, temperature, and barometric pressure begin to change dramatically. For most people, it’s no big deal, but for me and folks like me, it’s a powderkeg. My reality of The Lost Weekend wasn’t the 1945 movie with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, nor the 18-month drinking, record-producing, and trysting binge by John Lennon between 1973-1975. My tour de force was in 1989, which was documented in part here, in: Syd's Journal. After dodging fate for a few months, that Lost Weekend ended up, (like they always do if not checked early on). with Tom and Syd visiting me in the locked unit of yonder hospital. This Year, I got lucky.
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22 March 2008

"This country does not torture people"

I thought maybe posting the fury driven email to friends and family about Alyssa Peterson’s suicide would settle my nerves a bit, but I am still angry. Several things keep coming back to me. Reports of secret torture, and the records of which, have been conveniently destroyed. A suicide, and manner of death, that was kept from the victim’s family and the world. The DOD was forced to provide the truth three years later, because Kevin Elston did not believe them. He filed a Freedom Of Information Act request in 2005. (You can read Kevin’s KNAU report of 2006, here.)

All suicides most certainly involve psychopathology of some sort. It is just a matter of degree. Some are impulsive and violent, others extremely thoughtful, methodical, and careful. What throws a monkey wrench into the equation for me, are cases like the self-immolation by Buddhist monks in Cambodia, and that of Alyssa R. Peterson, who switched her M-4 Carbine to “burst”, and stuck the muzzle under her chin. (She caught two rounds, and probably died instantly.)

“…documents also refer to a suicide note found on her body, revealing that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide. [Kevin Elston] has now filed another FOIA request for a copy of the actual note.”

In the unlikely event that the DOD would release the remainder of Alyssa’s suicide note and further expose facts about torture practices, (heretofore kept secret), we may never know precisely why she took her own life. Regardless, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that maybe her death could have been prevented. Maybe.
"This country does not torture people"SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

21 March 2008

Madness In The Desert

I got Alyssa’s memorial bracelet in the mail yesterday. I ordered it about three weeks ago, after so many stories about the record number of completed suicides, (over one thousand), and the even more frightening 2,100 total attempts, which never seem to be reported. (Now, just how many of those survivors of gunshot wounds to the skull do you suppose have much of a life?)
I didn’t know a thing about Alyssa or her death, except that she died early in the conflict in Iraq, and that she was assigned to an “intelligence” unit. Her name, Spc Alyssa R. Peterson, 27, was just there, along with about a hundred others, but only one of a few listed as a suicide. I wondered at the time, how many of the “Non-Hostile, Weapons Discharges” were actually suicides.
Long story short, I read another article today in The Chicago Tribune online about the spike in the suicide rate in the Army and the Marine Corps, only to get steamed reading about a soldier who was put on suicide watch twice, given 15 days leave, put on Prozac, who was then cleared for duty, given the bolt back to his weapon, then shot himself to death a few hours later. After stewing for awhile, and thinking about writing a blog piece about this and the bracelet, I shot the picture of the bracelet, then I Googled Alyssa’s name to get the above image and learn a little about her. This, is the shock that I received, here.
Now this, among a dozen other stories about the third woman to die in Iraq, how she died, and why she died has made me sick to my stomach. I picked this woman’s name from a list simply because I wanted show that someone was paying attention. I got more than I reckoned for. I think I’m gonna puke.
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13 March 2008

Hill O' Beans

I was trolling around Last.Fm today, and I ran across two songs by the band Hill of Beans. I was initially shocked, but then pleased to hear "Satan, lend me a Dollar", followed by "The Shit has hit the fan". The latter, obviously an anti-war/Bush song, was right up my alley. Upon further reading, however, I discovered that Hill of Beans formed in 1988, and lasted only until around 1992. Imagine that, mistaking one Bush war for another. Other new favorites wot that I found: Mary Gauthier, and Hound Dog Taylor. The latter it seems, was Keith Richards' speech coach. It's rich. Now should you linger here long enough, pondering my deep, insightful, (and most of all), well written prose, you will hear more of my favorite new songs and artists. (Save yourself the heartache, and skip on over to the above link.)

UPDATE: To listen to a wild environmental protest song recorded by Hill of Beans long before "Green" was fashionable, see Turpentine.

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12 March 2008

Why Do They Do It?

“Those whom the gods would destroy,
they first make mad.”

Why do powerful men, mostly in politics but not exclusively, get themselves caught in tawdry sex scandals and ruin their lives? Elliot Spitzer, Jim Mcgreevey, Larry Craig, Mark Foley… the list goes on and on. In the religious world we were forced to spitzer witness the revolting melt-downs of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard. In the latest case, New York Governor, Elliot Spitzer, has been revealed to have been a patron of an uber-expensive call girl operation in Washington D. C. for over a year, at the Mayflower Hotel, no less. With this dalliance, Spitzer has wrecked his career and his marriage, and made a mockery of all that he professed to stand for. He was Mr. Clean, the crusader against corruption far and wide. Now, I’m not judging Spitzer on the morality thing, except for the fact that I don’t like hypocrites who bust prostitution rings while secretly patronizing them. I think prostitution ought to be legal for consenting adults. The moral issue is not really my concern. What fascinates me is the exercise in self-destruction that these men do.

With Spitzer, I can’t imagine that it’s the sex. His wife, with whom he has had three daughters, is a very attractive and intelligent woman. She makes me think of a more mature Jennifer Anniston. In other words, for a 40-something, she’s a doll. She is also highly accomplished in her own right, a total package that most men would give whatever they had to have her in their lives. [If some of that sounds sexist, I apologize. I’m trying to get across my own impression that this lady is a high quality partner. I think most sane men would worship the ground she walks on.] It’s not the sex.

Power. Any man who rises to the governor’s office in the state of New York is turned on by power. Power is a strong motivation and intoxicant. But, if you’re the governor, you can get your power rocks off in a multitude of ways that don’t involve getting tangled up with a call-girl service. Prior to being governor, Spitzer served as Attorney General for New York. He had busted prostitution rings. As the chief law enforcement officer of the state of New York, he knew how risky it was for him to get involved with the call girl service, and he did it anyway. He had to know that he was risking all of his power to play sex games with a Washington D.C. hooker.

More than sex, prostitution for the “John” is an exercise of power, in this case, financial power. For people who are stimulated by the domination of others, coercing another person to give the most intimate parts of themselves to another for money is a potent turn-on. This cannot be denied, and I have little doubt that part of the allure of prostitution for Spitzer was tied up in a fascination with domination of another person. Nevertheless, for a man in his position, this activity and its attendant risks is irrational. It doesn’t make sense by itself. The risk/reward ratio is all wrong. One cannot exercise power by throwing it away.

My dad was an administrator in the Presbyterian Church, the functional equivalent of a bishop. From time to time, it would fall to him to deal with a situation in which a minister had fallen into one of these kinds of self-destructive situations. Once, before I was old enough to understand the impossibility of "why" questions, I asked him why ministers allowed themselves to slip into such obvious career-ending episodes such as having an affair with a member of their parish. He answered, "How do you say no to God? For people who believe they have been called by the Almighty to do this job, just walking away is not an option, so they set themselves up for something that gives them an ‘out’ without having to take responsibility for the decision." Hmmm, deep stuff there, Dad. It made sense to me, though. Is there intentionality in our self-destruction?

These days, when we talk about Freud, we talk about suppressed eroticism, fantasy wish-fulfillment, Oedipal complexes and the like, and when we do this, we are really only presenting half of Freud's model, Eros, the drive to life. In fact, Freud's model of human psychology actually held that there were two great opposing forces which drove us through our lives. One was Eros, the will to life, and the other was a death drive, which after Freud came to be called Thanatos, the will to death. These two great forces swirl around each other like Kundalini serpents, battling for dominance throughout the course of our lives.

Do the Spitzers, McGreeveys, Craigs and Haggards of this world need an out? Do they unconsciously engineer an escape so that they can avoid the psychic suffocation of the lives they have built for themselves, lives built on conscious principles that turn out to be too narrow to sustain the emotional life of the whole person? What happens when they are armed with nuclear weapons and the treasuries of great nations? Maybe I don’t want a walk-on part in someone else’s Götterdämmerung. My own is perking along nicely.

Are the self-destructive episodes of our lives part of our psychological development? Maybe. It's as good an explanation as any for why otherwise rational and intelligent people suddenly begin to do things that destroy their lives and relationships. If that doesn't work for you, maybe we could just fall back to, "The Devil made me do it."

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11 March 2008

Torture by degree...

Meet critically acclaimed musician/songwriter and multi-Grammy winner Amy Winehouse in better days. Here pre-beehive, sans Pin-up tattoos, with an untreated mental illness, her demonization/stigmatization by the media and "normal folks" alike yet to come. She is in good company with her not-so talented American counterpart, (whom I will not name, in spite of her perpetual domination of Google Metrics), who is currently fighting for control of her estate, and the right to visit her two young children. As a poignant contrast, I have been struck by Heath Ledger's accidental death by Polypharmacy. Why are the living ridiculed, while the dead are lionized, exalted, and celebrated?
Torture by degree...SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

These are the people...

After buying Hey Jude/Revolution when I was eight, my dad , bless his heart, did a few things that changed my life. He wasn't much of a Father as he was obsessed with making sure everyone knew he was smarter, more cultured, and right about everything. The irritating thing was, all these things were true. He just made sure you were painfully aware of it at all times. A PHD candidate, professor of english, walking encyclopedia of baseball, genius IQ, and an exceptional and just short of photographic memory. He was also the target of CIA recruiters while in the Navy during the Cold War. So here's one of the rare gifts he did give me: A love of music of all types and the principles of social justice. The Beatles at Eight, then it got crazy. My dad played a recording of Dr. King's I Have a Dream, and the Cannonball Adderely Quintet playing Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, on his big tube Bell reel to reel piped through a high-end Leak tube amp around 1969. It had a powerful influence on me, to go along with what I saw on TV. Then, when I was ten and eleven, he started in with Woody Guthrie records and a Hank Williams box set of complete recordings for me and my sister. We didn't know what to do except sit there and soak it in. The man polished me off when I was eleven or twelve. He brought home the just released Will The Circle be Unbroken, (1971), in a big fat sleeve with multiple records, photos and liner notes. It was then I first heard The Carter Family, Merle Travis, Jimmy Martin, and you know, Vassar Clements and Junior Huskey. There's just too many to mention here. We studied and listened to that thing obsessively, and still do. For that, dad, thank you.
These are the people...SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

From Beatles to Blind Lemon...

This here was the last, real record I think I ever bought. It's Paramount #12307, Blind Lemon Jefferson's Dark Horse Blues,1926. It was in a pile of pre-war blues 78s I found in the west end of Louisville. The cat was in his 70's, and they had been handed down to him by his mother, along with a Victrola. As a collector of 78s, (and many other types of junk), this pile was really a once in a lifetime find. The rarest record, easily, was a Black Patti #8052, by Rabbit's Foot Williams, (Jaybird Coleman), 1927.
My very first record was Hey Jude,by the Beatles, the very first record pressed on the Apple label. The B-side was Revolution. The song, Hey Jude, (originally Hey Jules), had been written by Sir Paul to assuage the grief of young Julian Lennon, over the divorce of his parents, Apparently, this was why Revolution got pushed to the B-side. I dug Revolution more, and took it to school to play during nap/quiet time. This didn't sit too well. It was 1968, and I was 8 years old.
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09 March 2008

One for each theater...

Army Spc., Monica Lin Brown, 19 of Texas, becomes the second female to be awarded the Silver Star for bravery in combat since WWII, in Afghanistan. Looky. The first awarded during the current conflict was Sgt.Leigh Ann Hester in Iraq, 2005. So there you have it.

The combat landscape of the 21st century requires women to take fire, and they perform as they have been trained. Hester and her unit took two KIA in an insurgent ambush in Iraq. Brown helped pull five members of her unit 500 yards to safety and treated them under direct fire after an IED attack. Valor is Valor.

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One of Alex's high school friends, a close friend named Kate, died of a drug overdose on Alex's birthday. All of the pills that killed her were legal prescription pharmaceuticals given to her by her doctor. Kate was a lesbian and a tattoo freak with a weight problem. Her birthday would have been the 30th of June and they would have been 19. They had plans to celebrate their birthdays together with a big party. They were close friends, not just acquaintances. It really had a profound impact on him. He came over here tonight and recounted the whole process. They all fainted when they saw Kate dead in the coffin. The crew stayed after the graveside service and wrote farewell messages in magic marker on Kate's coffin and then filled the grave in with dirt – the whole grave up to the surface.

This is the first death he has experienced as a conscious adult. It was kind of interesting to hear him talk about it, the way they reacted to it, especially seeing Kate in the casket. I couldn't help but internally compare it to my indifference to dead bodies. I have seen so many people dying and dead that the process and artifact of death has no effect on me at all. If it's someone I care about, I grieve because I'm losing someone important to me, but the fact of death and dead bodies just carry no emotional content to me, especially not dread or fear. If I feel something for the deceased, it is most often a sense of relief – "he's off the hook... no more pain and frustration." Of course, I didn't share my internal ruminations with Alex, but it underscored how comfortable I have become with death.

This is probably not a good thing. In Jesus' time, the Nazaretes weren't allowed to touch anything dead. The dead were unclean to them. Maybe they were onto something.

Kate was one of those who would call her friends when she was down to threaten suicide. The agenda was to get them to come over and be sympathetic, or so it seemed. On the night she died, Kate placed one of these calls to Alex but he told her that he didn't want to be manipulated in this way and ended the conversation. A few hours later she was dead. Needless to say, this placed a huge burden of guilt on Alex. He had a really hard time getting away from the idea that if he had gone over to see her she might not have killed herself. I told him again and again that people who are determined to take their own lives will do it and there's nothing anyone can do to stop them, and that you can't allow yourself to be controlled by another person's threat of suicide. I don't know if I did any good in relieving his guilt. Later he and his whole circle of friends would get little black roses tattooed on their chests above their hearts. It was a tattoo that Kate had.

No one really knows why Kate did what she did. She didn't leave a note. Her family and friends loved her and did their best to take care of her. She was in the care of psychiatrist who is well respected. She wasn't isolated and unloved. Most of the standard clichés that you hear about teen suicide didn't really fit Kate. For some reason, Kate didn't love her life enough to keep on living it. That's all we know.

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At a quarter past four in the morning, the phone rang. It was Alex saying that he wanted to come over and get my shotgun. I waited in my old green bath robe for him to arrive. It wasn't long. He explained that a group of young men were watching their apartment and it was making him and Chris nervous. My initial response was that if it was serous enough to wake me up in the middle of the night to get a shotgun, it was serious enough to call the police. Alex responded with, "The police don't do anything but show up and take a report after your dead." (Ah, Grasshoper, you were paying attention after all.) It's weird to hear your own rhetoric bounced back at you, and, of course, it's not just rhetoric; I believe it. The cops aren't guards and even a conscientious police force may not arrive in time during a sudden home invasion sort of attack. Nevertheless, I was uneasy with turning my 19-year-old loose with a Remington 870 turkey gun a 4 AM. "Are you going to kill somebody over a toaster?"

He explained that this group of young men had approached both he and Chris on several occasions and had made unusual inquiries about what they had in their apartment. The also had repeatedly sat in the driveway in a car and would move the car away if someone appeared to have noticed their presence. It didn’t really add up. Chris and Alex have next to nothing in their apartment and it’s hardly a likely target for a simple burglary. Reluctantly, I agreed to let him take the shotgun but I insisted that he contact the police and let them know what was going on. The police responded well, coming out immediately to take a report and check around the area. What surprised me was that the officer advised Alex to procure a firearm for self defense.

It was noteworthy to me that Alex didn’t ask for his beautiful match grade Kimber Pro CDP .45, but asked instead for the shotgun. His thinking was sound: the shotgun would be somewhat less likely to penetrate walls into the next apartment, and Chris had worked with the 870 and knew the manual of arms. Add to that the legendary intimidation factor of the pump shotgun and its well-documented effectiveness.

It all still made me terribly uneasy. When I moved into my first apartment, I had a gun, a Winchester .22 semi-auto rifle that was eventually stolen in a burglary. The real difference is that I don’t remember ever considering even once the necessity of having to use my rifle for self-defense. “The times, they are a-changin’…”

WeirdnessSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

On Seeing Allen Ginsberg

We had come over the Great Divide, down the Front Range into Boulder, to Fred’s for food and jazz guitar. Just as a table emptied and we moved to take it, Allen Ginsberg came out with a friend. This was a moment of awe, like seeing a president or famous movie star. I owned every book he had published. I thought I should go over and talk to him,

“Hello, Mr. Ginsberg…”

No, you don’t call Allen Ginsberg “Mr. Ginsberg.”

“Hello, Allen, I’m a poet too…”


“Hello, Allen, I’ve read everything you’ve ever written…”


“Hello, Allen, would you autograph my karma?”

Think that already happened.

“Hello, you son of a bitch. You screwed me up for years.”

Truth, but he probably wouldn’t understand.

“Hello, Allen, I finally learned how to forget about you.”

I never said anything. I just let him drift away into the crowd, eating his ice cream cone. I don’t remember what I had for supper but Fred played his guitar very well that night.

On Seeing Allen GinsbergSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
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