Friday, June 29, 2007

SCOTUS Chatter

Sorry about the length of time between posts kids. The Patriot has had a rather busy work week and frankly, doesn’t really have too much to say. The conservative take-over of the United States government is so complete and the level of acceptable argument so skewed to the right that it almost seems silly to complain about anything.

It was a bad week for free speech at the Supreme Court, unless you are a corporation of course. In the bong hits for Jesus case Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's 6-3 majority it that it was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that a student’s “Bong Hits For Jesus” banner promoted illegal drug use-- and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge." Give me a break. Promoting drug use? Promoting reactionary behavior from the Supreme Court is more like it. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens aptly noted, “"This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs, so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message." Arguing the case for the school was none other than the illustrious Kenneth Starr who apparently feels like he didn’t damage society enough with his single-minded pursuit of the Clintons, undertaken at the behest of his Republico-fascist masters.

The lingering aftereffects of the drug wars continue to convulse society. I think if anything this country needs to smoke a lot MORE pot and chill the fuck out.

While the conservatives picked up wins on the issues of free speech and affirmative action at the Court this week, they may or may not be so lucky on the concentration camp prisoner issues. From SCOTUS blog: [T]he Supreme Court on Friday agreed to reconsider the appeals in the Guantanamo Bay detainee cases. It vacated its April 2 order denying review of the two packets of cases. The Court then granted review, consolidated the cases, and said they would be heard in a one-hour argument in the new Term starting Oct. 1.” What does this mean for the detainees? At issue is the right of detained “enemy combatants” to petition for habeus corpus. Succinctly, the question actually presented is “whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Pub, validly stripped federal court jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by foreign citizens imprisoned indefinitely at the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay.” Read that sentence again slowly and think of what it means to live in a society that denies the right of habeas to people detained indefinitely without charge. I wonder whether the Court is taking the case in order to strip itself of the right to review habeas petitions. Seems like that’s where this Court is heading.

Friday, June 22, 2007


As Michael More correctly notes in his new movie, the US Healthcare system is totally fucked. This is the richest country in the world and we have millions of citizens who are either uninsured or forced into a latter day form of debtor’s prison in order to pay for their medical care. There is only one reason why this situation exists and that is because the capitalist system has no vested interest in a single-payer system. Polls consistently show that a majority, if not a plurality of Americans want a single-payer system along the lines of the Canadian or British models and are willing to pay higher taxes to pay for it. Yet the chicken-shit politicians in Washington can’t be bothered to raise their heads out of the soft-money trough long enough to support such a measure. As usual, the corporations have been allowed to set the terms of the debate-the only acceptable system is one which preserves insurance companies right to make money for their shareholders. A single-payer system is dismissed by politicians as “socialized medicine” and this happy horseshit is eagerly parroted by the media elites who have their own heads buried far up the asses of their corporate masters.

The government seems perfectly willing and able to send massive armies across the globe to destabilize up entire regions of the planet but it cannot be bothered to fix a broken health care system that is costing more American lives in a year than terrorists ever could. The only reason we do not have a single payer system is because corporations don’t want one. Such a system would actually cost the consumer less money than the patchwork collection of private insurance which is inadequately covering Americans now. The potential savings on paperwork alone gained by going to a single-payer system, more than $350 billion per year, is enough to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone without paying any more than we already do. Something has got to give. America’s population is aging and medical care is outrageously expensive. How much more money can these insurance companies stuff into their maws before the social consequences become too big to ignore?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Always Use Your Willie Wisely

The posting title is a bumper sticker or t-shirt, I forget which, you could buy at a Willie Wisely show in the 1990s. Back in the early 1990s Becky and I attended a friend’s wedding in a small town three hours south of Minneapolis in Minnesota farm country. Rather than the polka band we expected at the reception, the couple hired a band with a talented hyperactive guitar player who was well known among the Minneapolis alternative rock scene. The Willie Wisely trio's performance that day made me a long-time fan. The band has been referred to as a “troupe of minstrels gallivanting”, “Sinatra on crack”, “Jazz-tinged bards”, and “neo-burlesque;”in short, difficult to describe but a lot of fun to listen to. Wisely’s major early influences include Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkle and the Beatles, and you can hear elements of those sounds infusing almost every tune. I'm partial to the earlier albums like Raincan and Parlez-Vous Francais, but a recent release really grabbed my attention.

While surfing around I-Tunes the other day I punched Willie’s name into the search engine and discovered that he put out a new record in December of 2006. I promptly downloaded the album, Parador, and discovered that Wisely’s talent as a songwriter and guitar player have gotten better over time. "Parador" is Wisely`s first studio album in 8 years. Most of the songs are about the pain and generalized insanity that accompany lost relationships as well as Wisely's wry take on the human condition. I’ve been playing the damn thing on repeat for a week and I keep discovering strange nuances in all of the songs that I missed the first time around. The complexity of the mix job on this record reminds me of Sergeant Pepper’s. From Wisely’s Bio:

“Willie Wisely has been evolving a singular musical style across the considerable span of his broad career, resulting most recently in the CD release, Parador, on Ella/Not Lame Recordings. Winning praise from critics coast to coast, Parador initiates a musical movement called "evocative pop," or "EVOC POP," which is exemplified by Wisely's singular brand of emotionally resonant, deeply memorable music. Originally hailing from Minneapolis, Wisely currently resides in Los Angeles where, in addition to creating his own distinctive music he is also a highly sought-after music producer and actor for an astounding variety of films and television.”

I highly recommend that you pop over to I-Tunes or Willie’s myspace page and sample some of Parador. Highlights include the title song, Staying Home Again (hot tune), Through Any Window (Could have been on the Beatles White Album-really nice), Too Quick to Love (lyrically somewhat sappy but spot on) and Altitudes. Wisely songs are like any good art, there are layers of nuance and the more you listen the more you hear. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed by this album. What does disappoint me is that this recording didn't teleport Wisely to the superstar pop status he clearly deserves. Maybe this is a function of being on a small record label whose distribution channels aren't as extensive as some of the more major players, or just a commentary on the simplistic ear of the American music consumer. Who knows? I hear that he's got a new album coming out with the original band and a tour planned for the fall. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More from Kalifornia

While New York sleeps, the Patriot lies awake, streaming audio from and lamenting whatever curse of the Gods which brought him from the warm Italian bosom of Staten Island to the sunny yet foreign and smoggy country of California. This place is not like our place. Everything is new and made of either reddish brick or some strange composite concrete material which absorbs sunlight. A thick pall of smog hangs over the entire southern part of the state and even the beaches are wreathed in the murky haze. The people are mysteriously good looking, no doubt due to the nutrient powders they take in with their Jamba juices.

Being a long way from the most excellent Jeans Wine Store, and feeling a pressing need for libations, I took a rather lengthy drive in search of the one thing California is rightly known for; its tasty cabernets. After dodging assorted corvettes, convertibles and Porsche Cayennes, I found a small liquor store next to the entrance ramp to the 405 freeway. One would thing that for $22 American you couldn’t pick a bad bottle of the local grape. Nevertheless, upon uncorking the smartly labeled bottle a foul brew issued forth which upon tasting conjured up images of Welsh’s grape juice that had spent a few hours on the business end of a Bunsen burner. St. Supery, stay away. Strike two for Orange County.


See the Patriot in California. See him prepay for a tank of gas before picking up his rental car in order to save time when returning the car. See the Patriot being given a Prius which uses less gas than a lawnmower. And I thought New York was the kingdom of rip offs. Orange County is kind of like Paramus but with Palm trees. I took a little trip over to Huntington Beach and ate fish tacos and now I'm at the hotel contemplating sushi. There are no Irish bars here. So sterile. I get nervous when things are too tidy. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More Musing on Hipsters

The appearance of the hipster in New York in the mid 1990s is probably related to the corporatization of the New York art and music scene which began around the same time. A fresh group of college graduates and mid-west transplants were confronted not with the seedy New York of the late 1980s and early 1990s but with a revitalized Times Square and the creeping influx of chain stores and place neutral advertising. The gentrification of Manhattan and the influx of nation-wide chain stores started to strip away the unique character of the City and replace it with the sort of non-descript middle-American consumerism to which the proto-hipsters were accustomed while growing up in places like DesMoines and New Jersey.

Since the baby hipsters were essentially devoid of originality and since New York was no longer capable of providing a sufficient muse to create a new scene, the kids were compelled to regurgitate past successful art and music accomplishments, drape them in irony, and proclaim them as new. That’s my theory anyway.

The pace of corporate devouring of the so-called “alternative” art and music scenes in New York has accelerated since the turn of the century, which has compounded the problem. As my anonymous friend indicated in a response to my last post, the closing of places with reasonably priced concert tickets like Tonic and CBGB’s and their high priced corporate replacements have limited access to performers and fans alike. Who can afford $60 to see a concert on a Thursday night? I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Land of Nuts and Fruits

Yup, I’m heading back to California for work next week, although the title of this post could just as easily apply to Williamsburg (see below). The destination is still Southern California, but not the ultra swanky environs of Beverly Hills that I had the pleasure of visiting last trip. No, this time I’m descending on the OC, Orange County, and I’m currently in the process of seeking out some Shangri-la to rest my head after what is sure to be a long and uncomfortable flight.

Meanwhile, I encourage you all to check out an article in this week’s Time Out New York entitled, The Hipster Must Die, which asks the important questions like, “Has the hipster killed cool in New York? Did it vanish along with Kokie’s, International Bar and Tonic?” Now I spent a considerable amount of time, one might say too much time, in Kokie’s in the late 1990s and I'll be the first to admit that it occupied a unique place in New York city night life. I never really thought of it as a bastion of hipster New York, but reasonable minds can differ on such distinctions. The truth is that the hipsters discovered the place just before the whole scene ended in police narcotic raids and prosecutions, not when it was a rocking after hours club with live salsa music at 8am on a Sunday morning. Alas, that was back in 1995 when Williamsburg was but a gleam in an ambitious developer’s eye and the only evidence of alternative culture in the neighborhood was Planeat Thailand (on Bedford) and the Bean. There were no hipsters in Kokies in 1996. Period.

The Time Out article is full of fun sentences like, “Yes, the assassins of cool still walk our streets: Any night of the week finds the East Village, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg teeming with youth—a pageant of the bohemian undead. These hipster zombies—now more likely to be brokers or lawyers than art-school dropouts—are the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real-estate agents. And they must be buried for cool to be reborn.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Hipsters are self-parody taken to the extreme. The exist to mimic cool, not create it. Consumerism has taken the place of creation, as anyone who has taken a stroll on Bedford Avenue lately will be the first to admit. There is a scene, no doubt, but where is the creativity? As the article astutely notes, “Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.”

The narcissistic absorption of the modern hipster renders them the ideal target of marketers who have been quite successful plying them with overpriced Pabst Blue Ribbons and convincing them to shell out $50 bucks for phony vintage t-shirts made in a sweatshop in China (With all due respects to American Apparel). How this translates into some sort of alternative lifestyle is beyond my understanding. What these folks do for work is also somewhat of a mystery as is how they are able to afford $3000 a month apartments. The article also presents a hipster time line with 1996 receiving special mention: “Take everything that came before this, put it in air quotes, and you have Williamsburg. Drawn by cheapo rents, artists had been moving there since the 1970s, and by the mid-’90s, they predominated, waving an ironic retro look as their flag.” I lived in Greenpoint in 1996, then Williamsburg’s poverty stricken next door neighbor. I remember the masses of seemingly unwashed artists trying to talk their way into the Turkey’s Nest on a Friday night past the bitchy Native American bartender with the foot long scar running up the center of her stomach. I also remember thinking how odd is was that they were trying to express their art and individuality by dressing in the same retro clothes and sporting the same hair styles. I suspect that all of the actual artists were already on the M train and making their way to Bushwick by early 1997.

Monday, June 04, 2007

More Key Largo Photos

Here are a few more. All photos taken by Bryan Reyna and are copywrited. Visit his flikr page (click on title of post, above) to see all of his Key Largo shots from this trip. The photo below is myself, Dave, Jonathan and Patricia planning our assault on the Duane from the deck of the dive boat. Photo at left is myself and Jonathan on a reef, photo below is the Ocean Divers diveboat Santana, pretty much our daytime home for three days.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pictures from Key Largo

Thanks to B.R. Pictures of me were taken about 100 feet down in my dive on the Spiegel Grove which is also partly pictured above.