sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

October 31, 2013

Linger On

Filed under: music, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:04 pm

The Velvet Underground was one side project of Any Warhol that lasted longer than 15 minutes.  In the late 60’s they might had seemed no different from other hangers-ons at The Factory, a small-time band, by the standards of the time, but a decade and half later, when miscellaneous queens and junkies proved to be only as interesting as Andy wanted them to be, they were firmly established as contenders for most influential band in rock-n-roll history, inspiring punk, noise and glam.  As Brian Eno once said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

Lou Reed keeps generation X bohemians keep going well into their 40’s.  That they are not going to be the next Beatles was pretty obvious long time ago, but they are still holding out hope that they might turn out to be the next Velvet Underground.  How wrong they are!

As DH likes to say, the underground music scene today is dominated by idiot savants who, despite having very little formal training and despite not being particularly bright, benefit from an occasional burst of inspiration.  They might think that rock-n-roll is easy because somebody like Reed made it simple and dirty.  But Reed had a jazz background and honors degree from Syracuse University, so he had the tools to do minimalism right.

He was a quintessential tortured artist, literally so.  As a teenager Reed had to undergo electroshock therapy for fooling around with men.  It’s often said that Reed was bisexual, but the proprietor of this blog strongly suspects that while female bisexuality is very common, men are either gay or straight.  Although it’s possible that, in his usual fashion, Reed only wanted to be provocative, he himself stated that he invented his bisexual personae for marketing purposes.  He came out as a straight man in 1978, shortly before AIDS made headlines across the world.

None of it justifies giving ETC to minors.  It’s fair to say that some of the early battles of culture wars made imprints on Lou Reed’s gray matter… after which the musician himself did considerable damage to his mind and body.  He lived the life he sang about in his song.  Lou Reed went on rhapsodize the seediest corners of pre-Guiliani New York (the New York poised to return in case anyone gets nostalgic), in the meantime composing some of the most soul-wrenching and melodic songs of love and loss.  Fellow Mexifornians will appreciate the Spanish subtitles:

Lou Reed was pretty much a commie, but he did nevertheless inspired the Czech youth of the Cold War era.  Why some Western bands made it big in Eastern Europe is anyone’s guess.  A few relatively unknown Western offerings were promoted by socialist states with the goal of providing the Eastern Block youth with an opportunity to let some steam out.  Others penetrated the Iron Curtain purely by chance — a smuggled LP copied to reel that went viral.  Expatriates broadcasted popular music (from London, most notably) both reflecting the charts and responding to our tastes, which, by the mid-80’s, tended to be on the metal side. We knew established rock-n-rollers, like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, of course, but all in all our knowledge of Western music was pretty random.

I was aware of Velvet Underground in my teens, but I don’t recall hearing the music until I immigrated.  I’m not entirely sure how the Czechs got to be into this cult New York band.  I know they were popularized by the Czech band The Plastic People of The Universe, along with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.  Captain Beefheart to this day remains an inside baseball kind of performer, so why were the Czechs cool enough to know him forty years ago?  Velvet Underground were big in Czechoslovakia after the failed Prague Spring of 1968, at the time they were playing in small clubs in the US.  Did The Plastic People find themselves in possession of one of these 10,000 records?

Velvet Underground helped the Czech dissidents keep their spirits high in the years between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the later event named after you guess what band.  The first Czech president and a well-known playwright Vaclav Havel spoke of the liberating power of rock-n-roll — it contained the message of personal freedom.  The political transformation of Eastern Europe was possible, in part, because so many Eastern European bohemians looked at Western bohemian degenerates with awe.  I wouldn’t hold my breath in re Middle Eastern degenerates like Bin Laden following the suit.

Lou Reed passed away last week, at the age of 71, and, I think, he himself was surprised just how long he lasted.  He lived long enough to see his musical legacy grow, to see his music change the world (or at least a corner of the world), drag queens become boring, Andy Warhol become the highest-selling artist of the year.  In a particularly surreal episode, on Havel’s insistence, Bill Clinton invited the old perv to the White House in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal.  Havel and Reed instantly struck a friendship, and there was no political fallout for Clinton.  Lou Reed became the establishment.

Vaclav Havel (left) meets Lou Reed (second on the left) at the White House in 1998. Architect of Hillarycare and the Benghazi debacle on right

I’m pretty sure Reed didn’t too terribly mind being invited to various red carpet events, and he certainly savored any opportunity to irritate the press.  But while he was pretty comfortable being part of the establishment, I’m not sure why we need establishment figures like Lou Reed.  When putting together a song list for our wedding, we briefly entertained including “Perfect Day”.  We had to X it out eventually because, after being featured in “Trainspotting”, it was all but impossible the song from heroin.  We played no Velvet Underground.  It is, however, a great song:

UPDATE: The best obituary to date by Robert Dean Lurie


October 28, 2013

A Horizon Organic Model of Medical Care?

Filed under: Bay Area politics, fashion, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:24 am

Eyeing my neighbor, sitting on his porch, eyes glazed over, I think: Are we going to sit like that, getting stoned every afternoon and blasting MSNBC, all because we gave up on finding a job and are now on disability?  How sad is the life in Obama’s America, particularly when it comes to individuals who are, despite being taken to the cleaners by their leaders, really quite bright.

The middle aged are set in their worldviews, and even though the sight of apparently stillborn Obamacare should be an Earth-shattering moment for many liberals, nobody expects them to switch party affiliation anytime soon.  What conservatives living in liberal areas can hope to accomplish is to shape the liberal thought exploiting the schism in their ideology.  Roger Simon has some ideas, and here is my 2 cents.

Mild-mannered liberals dislike all things large.  We no longer build skyscrapers in San Francisco, for instance, because those are too intimidating.

The distinguishable San Francisco skyline is Diane Feinstein’s legacy, one of the reasons the former mayor is a-OK in my book. San Francisco’s political culture of the day favors mediocre mid-rises that we slap on the streets South of Market.

The way I see it, when the late Andrew Breitbart inaugurated his “Bigs”, he was toying with the libs and their suspicion of big business.  A liberal thinks that big corporations are evil, and his consumer choices reflect it.  We don’t shop at Wall-mart around here, and prefer locally-owned coffee shops to Starbucks.  It’s an easy choice, to be sure, because Wall-mart doesn’t cater to upper middle class customers, and those local coffee shops serve fresh salads topped with home made dressing.  Some of my neighbors like the fact that they can bike to a local toy store to buy a present for their child, but not to Wall-mart.  In the end, our choices are more about aesthetics than morals.

My shopping and dining preferences are not very different from those of my neighbors (if anything, I might be pickier — or at least I hope I am), but that’s mainly a lifestyle choice.  I do have an ideology that props up my tastes.  If I patronize a business, it’s not because the owner nods enthusiastically every time I open my mouth about politics.  I reward producers for offering the best product at the best price, and small local businesses have an edge there because, as a rule, small works better than big.  Locally grown produce won’t feed the hungry world, but it does taste better then tomatoes that were picked green in Mexico.  The lady who runs my favorite consignment store, for instance, knows what kind of clothes I buy, so she keeps me in mind when she sorts through the bags other customers bring in.  All of that is done without any kind of creepy internet surveillance algorithms.

Because of his innate distrust of big, a liberal can be open to the idea that small generally delivers better quality products.  My daughter was born in the happier Bush times.  A new mother, I was bombarded with suggestions to use organic foods for my baby.  At the same time I was cautioned to be careful with products labeled organic because, I was told, the newly minted USDA Organic certification was insufficiently rigorous* (in the Bush years liberals were considerably more skeptical of the federal government).  One lady I know advised me to purchase Horizon Organic dairy because “those guys are local and somebody keeps an eye on them”.  Local?  Horizon Organics is the largest distributor of organic milk in North America!  BUT they partner with local farms whose products they deliver to local retailers.

I think I can put an idea out there that health care should operate like Horizon Organic, from the ground up.  Obamacare failed because is too big to succeed: “Dude!  Can we drop a half a billion dollars on a website AND expect it to work?” “Yes, yes, I know there is government healthcare in Israel and Israelis are happy with it.  But Israel is a tiny country!  It’s one thing to provide 7  million people with healthcare, but 300 million — that’s a whole different story!”  Medical services should be organized on the local level, maybe state level.  What we need to do is to de-centralize… and [gasp] privatize.


*Speaking of which, organic purists can turn to multiple private entities issuing certifications that fit their standards.  There is a lesson here as well.

October 17, 2013

In the Future, Everybody Will Be a Dissident for 15 Minutes

Filed under: politics, Soviet Union — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 5:13 pm

UPDATE: Many thanks to professor Jacobson for linking.

Buried behind the headlines about the peons opting out of Obamacare and the Capitol Hill Republicans caving in re government slim-down, there is this: Bill Ayers is releasing a new autobiography subtitled Confessions of an American Dissident (via Insty).

I might be a bit old-fashioned, but when I was growing up, the word “dissident” had a very different meaning.  Dissidents were moral giants, they were our heroes; non-violent people — writers, scientists, thinkers — who stood up to the Soviet regime, for human rights and freedom, did so knowing that there was going to be hell to pay, and bravely endured the subsequent prosecution.  They wrote banned books and essays, and maybe talked to the Western media; what they didn’t do was fly planes into skyscrapers — or kill people in any other manner.  For speaking truth to power our dissidents were punished by the regime.  Andrei Sakharov, once a leading Soviet physicist and the father of the Soviet H-bomb, was banished to the provincial town of Gorky (the so-called “internal exile”), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Voinovich and many others were stripped of citizenship, Joseph Brodsky was exiled as well — after being torture in mental hospital, and Natan Sharansky endured 13 years of forced labor camp and torture.

Americans are expected to be opinionated.  Everyone is a “dissident” when his guy doesn’t win the White House, which is about every 4-12 years (to construct a more convincing “dissident” persona, left-leaning Americans are advised to register as more exotic Greens or Socialist, in which case their guy never wins).  I’m frightened by Obamacare, does it make me a dissident?  Of course not.  I’m with the majority of Americans who don’t worry about expressing their negative opinion about the healthcare overhaul to various pollsters.  When everyone is a “dissident”, no one is a dissident, even those who hate the country and everything it stands for.  They are simply Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.

I don’t know when and how it happened, but some Americans caught the dissident fever.  I met my first American “dissident” in Berkeley.  He was a grad student substitute teaching an introductory US history class at the time Second Gulf War began.  He was a painfully uncharismatic man (“painfully” because the contrast between him and the professor Litwack, a skillful propagandist he was filling in for, was stark) with a predictable worldview, thanks to which he already had a tenure track job lined up in another California four-year college.  On the occasion of the war, he took the entire class hour to explain to 800 or so students his opposition.  The little lecture of his was straight our of NYT editorial page, except that in conclusion, he said that in the Soviet Union, you know, they had their Perestroika, so now he wants one here.  He probably didn’t know that Reagan and Thatcher inspired us, and he probably chose not to know that the real dissidents (Yelena Bonner, Nathan Sharansky, Vasily Aksenov, Vaclav Havel) were in agreement with W.  From what I understand, the grad student’s position was not affected by the actual substance of the dissident’s ideas as much as the aesthetics of revolutionary change.  A Velvet Revolution-type of revolution, in his case.

At the time, the American media developed a habit of calling Bin Laden a “Saudi dissident” because in his view the Saudi royal family was insufficiently repressive.  Well, originally the word “dissident” was applied to those involved in religious disputes, so at least there is some sort of rationale there.  But still, in the light of recent history, maybe journalists could hit Webster’s to find a different was to describe the terrorist.

American “dissidents” got their “velvet revolution” in the persona of our First Black President, TM.  Only it was kind of a boring type of change, no universal struggle of good and evil that we in Easter Europe lived through.  American Progressives voted for a black dude with a radical chic name.  Next thing you know the black dude moves to curb our liberties and expand federal bureaucracies, all the while embarrassing our country abroad.  Meantime Lech Walesa endorsed Mitt Romney for President.

Now Obamster’s mentor is hurrying up to cash in on the Presidential connection while the former is still in office.  He thinks he’s a “dissident”.  The brat hates America, all right, and he had a brush up with the law, for, among other things, blowing up his GF.  Morally and politically Billy Ayers occupies the space somewhere between Sakharov and Bin Laden, but firmly on Bin Laden’s side.

October 9, 2013

Break out The Bubbly!

Filed under: politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:58 pm

H/t El Rushbo: Baracka’s approval rating is currently at 37%.  I once mentioned that our household was planning to celebrate ‘Bamser’s popularity falling below 40% with champagne, and finally the day has come.  Why the One is going out of fashion faster than randomly assembled bright colored cloths held together by a boob belt is anyone’s guess.  It could be the Obamacare roll-out fiasco, the park closure theater, his generously-butted wife putting schoolchildren across the fruited planes on grass and water diet or simply the plebs finally getting tired of his likeness.

And yet, being the guardian of climate stability, O did part seas, as promised at the hour of his anointment.  Or so it seems — because, did you know that it’s already snowing in the Sierras?  Patron saint of Alpine skiing, he.

Granted, everyone in the federal government, tasked with overseeing notoriously ungovernable citizens, is unpopular at this moment.  But, being a bit of an anarchist on account of my Tea Party sympathies, I’m not troubled by that.  Destroy!

[BTW, DH has counted 17 dog whistles in this post. A new record!]

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