The fallen.

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Four special forces soldiers were killed in the African nation of Niger earlier this month, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s been no discussion of what our policy is in Niger or more broadly in that region of Africa, no information on the circumstances of the men’s deaths, no nothing. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Yemen raid that went bad just a couple of weeks into Trump’s tenure, except that they HAD a story for that one and it turned out to be as bogus as a Linkletter million dollar bill.

Another thing the Niger incident echoes somewhat more dimly is the Benghazi attack back in 2012. You know, four dead Americans, questions about how much support they received from Washington, and so on. So I imagine Trey Gowdy will start holding hearings on this quite soon, right? (Trey? Are you out there, Trey?)

What they DON'T want to talk about.Okay, so, the thing MSNBC has latched onto is Trump’s call to one of the relatives of the lost soldiers in Niger and his comments surrounding presidential condolence calls in general. This seems like a red herring. The fact is, Trump radiates a sense of not caring about anything that happens to military people. This just points to what I’ve contended for some time now; that Trump is all of our worst tendencies balled up into a big, fat, greasy wad of nothing. He doesn’t care about lost soldiers in much the same way that most Americans don’t care – at least, not enough to step away from their televisions or to put their forks down. Sad, as Trump would tweet, but true.

Do Americans wonder why our military is operating in places like Niger, Chad, etc.? My guess is that they don’t, since both the government and the media are not taking a close look. One freelance journalist working in that region, Amanda Sperber, commented on Democracy Now! that she found it surprising that Americans weren’t aware of our presence in Niger; that we have, among other things, a drone base in that country. Why? Because we the people don’t make it our business to question these deployments. We don’t have to pay (at least, for the time being) and we don’t have to fight, so we essentially don’t give a fuck.

We will become a civilized people the moment we start treating our service personnel as if they were members of our immediate family. When we get to that point, maybe Trump will adjust his behavior … or, even better, be sent home.

luv u,

jp

Jump time.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

Time to crank out another number? Right, then. One … two … one, two, three, fo… What? Wait for what? Oh, right. We need to pick a song. My bad.

Well, obviously we’re a little out of practice. It’s been a while since Big Green performed in these parts, and while we don’t have any plans to set up at the local gin mill and run through the ’93 set list (just like the old days, Steve), we could do with a little rehearsal time. A friend once told me that rehearsal is just a crutch for cats who can’t blow. (No, he didn’t wear sunglasses and a tam.) I like to think he had a point. It makes me feel better about doing nothing, and doing nothing is nothing if it isn’t fun.

Not to say that we’re dead idle – far from it. This week we’re recording the next episode of Ned Trek. We’re also working on the songs for our Christmas Extravaganza, rummaging through our big burlap sack of old Xmas songs that was the genesis of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas, in 1999. Yessir, I remember back in ’02, when the pump broke down and we had to haul water from the brook all the way uphill to our little log lean-to in Sri Lanka. Then there was the time that old Barney the mule lost a shoe in the middle of winter sowing. Hard times. Yep. (Yep.)

A bit spare.Thankfully, life is a lot simpler now. We have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) haul all of our water from the brook. Except now, unlike then, we have indoor plumbing (our lean-to was very old-school), so Marvin just dumps the water into the cistern and we tap it. Modern conveniences! When Marvin’s batteries run a little low, we ask Anti-Lincoln to do it, and he always says no. We still ask, though. Everybody pulls his own weight around here. Everybody except the mansized tuber, who needs a little help. But what the hell – he’s a freaking plant. Can’t expect him to grow arms and legs and start jumping around anytime soon. (Or can we …. ?)

Well, I’ve wandered a bit. The bottom line is that we’re dusting off a few of the Christmas songs Matt wrote decades ago – ones that didn’t end up on 2000 Years To Christmas – and recording them properly for the first time ever (i.e. not on a borrowed 4-track cassette deck). Again, modern conveniences, utilized for our mutual benefit. It’s a crazy little thing called civilization.

Wanting more.

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It’s hard to overstate how disturbing the news has become over the last couple of weeks. Gradually some elements of the Republican political establishment are beginning to acknowledge the obvious fact that Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit for the office of the Presidency. Astonishing. Why someone like Senator Corker wouldn’t have realized this more than a year ago, when he had the opportunity to help prevent this disaster, defies belief. Like his colleagues, it obviously wasn’t as important to him as having a Republican president – any Republican president – who would sign legislation and implement the extreme right policies his party has long advocated. They did everything in their power to put an unstable man in the most powerful office on earth and place the nation in jeopardy just to gain marginal political advantage.

Maybe THEY buy it.Now Corker and his colleagues can feign surprise when the bonobo they elected throws feces at them from his perch in the White House. And because the Tennessee Senator has announced his retirement, he can channel his colleagues’ unease when Trump (a) demonstrates he knows nothing about America’s nuclear strategy or the history of that strategy, (b) breezily demands we return to an arsenal of 32,000 warheads, and (c) makes a habit of cryptically threatening to start World War III on the Korean peninsula. The man is a terrorist, plain and simple – hinting that there’s some kind of “storm” coming, teasing some violent response or initiative, then dropping a smirking “you’ll see,” like a petulant four-year-old. Fit for the presidency? The man isn’t even qualified to be dog catcher.

I wish this were the kind of joke that so many people think it is (including many of Trump’s core supporters, who revel in the discomfort of liberals and the like), but it’s not. Trump is alluding to some kind of military action in the near future, probably regarding North Korea. Any action commenced by the United States stands the very real risk of provoking a counterattack on Seoul, South Korea – a city of 20 million people and no small number of Americans – plus the involvement of China and perhaps Russia (China’s leaders have said that they would respond to an unprovoked attack on North Korea by the U.S.) That is the World War III scenario that Corker is alluding to. Even short of that, we could be looking at loss of life in the hundreds of thousands within a very short period of time – far beyond anything we’ve seen in decades. (Congo may be an exception, though that conflict took place over many years and in some respects is still ongoing.)

In my humble opinion, it’s 25th Amendment time. Will anyone in the senior leadership of this administration put the country before his or her career? Remains to be seen.

luv u,

jp

Music minus fun.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

There’s that funny music again. And the really strange thing is, every time I hear it, there’s someone at the front door. What’s that? A door bell? Oh … okay. Never mind.

Well, I thought I was on to something important there; maybe a new scientific principle born of some random observation, like noticing a minor irregularity in the orbit of Mercury. No such luck, my friends – looks like the Nobel Prize for Physics will be going to someone else this year … again. (Don’t know how many of these disappointments I can stand.) I understand that our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee, has been nominated for the Ignobel Prize in making things blow sky high. That’s a tough one to win – it’s a little hard to guess how high sky high is.

Lord only knows, we don’t do what we do here at Big Green for the love of prizes and little metal statuettes. Neither do we do it for the money. (The simple fact is that there IS no money in what we do.) Nay, we just do it for the simple joy of music …. that omnipresent mellifluous force that lifts our spirits up on high. That unseen power that unites us with the choir invisible. That … I don’t know …. ear worm that drives you out of your skull for three days; thanks an effing bunch, Matt! YOU AND YOUR CATCHY TUNES!

Not MY master's voice.Honestly, if we relied on positive feedback, like all of our coaches and half of our therapists suggested, we would have left this “business” years ago. I’ve known enterprising individuals who consider push-back a strong indication that you’re doing the right thing. That sounds good to me, but frankly … we don’t even get a lot of negative feedback. We’re like the band in the bubble. We’re music minus fun.

Hey, maybe we’re on to something, right? Matt wrote a song years ago called “Motivation X” which celebrated the sentiment: use your motivation to restrain yourself. That’s the revolution, right? Go easy on the world. Start a collective and make music because that’s what you do, not because you want to rip the world a new asshole and burn through a lot of money, a lot of trees, a lot of water, a lot of gas, etc. Make your revolutionary act the act of not succeeding.

Wait …. there’s that funny music again! Mailman, perhaps?

Arms control.

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Let’s have some fun with semantics, shall we? Start with the word “gun”. What is a gun and when does it stop being a gun and become, say, a bazooka or a howitzer? Though I suppose you can say that a howitzer is a kind of gun – big guns, as in “Bring out the big guns!” How about a staple gun or a glue gun? So a “gun” just a device for expelling something, right? That’s why it also serves as one of umpteen English euphemisms for penis, among other applications.

Well, fortunately for you 2nd Amendment purists out there, this very confusing word “gun” does not appear anywhere in the text of your favorite founding document of the Republic. The Constitutional scholars over at the local NRA gathering simply assume the word “arms”, which is used in the amendment, means every manner of gun from the .38 special to the Kalashnikov. Why they stop there I have no idea. Given the vague wording of the 2nd Amendment, our founders seem to leave the door open to an inalienable right to brandish a bazooka, or a howitzer, or a tactical nuclear missile for that matter. “Arms” is a far more general term than “gun”, so obviously we draw the line somewhere.

Constitutional right to ALL of them?Based on the evident facts of the massacre in Las Vegas, it’s way past time to move that line a bit south from where it’s been over the past couple of decades. I know my gun enthusiast friends bristle at the thought of restricting “assault rifles”, largely on the basis of the fact that the term is not sufficiently defined and, like all terms, highly subject to interpretation. Fair enough. But it seems to me we are in need of restrictions on the actual firepower represented by these weapons (particularly when modified, as the Las Vegas shooter’s rifles were, to operate as automatic weapons) rather than the specific design. Nine rounds a second seems kind of excessive, for instance. Is there any earthly reason why someone using a gun for self-defense, hunting, or other varieties of personal amusement would need to shoot more than a round or two per second?

I know, I know … I’m trying to spoil people’s fun. There are something like 200,00 legally registered automatic weapons out there, millions more semi-automatics, and people just love, love, love to shoot them at target ranges, etc. Great. But weight your right to do something fun against the right of others to be protected against the massive trauma and death caused by such weapons on a regular basis. If you can have your normal old .30-30 hunting rifle, your handgun, your shotgun, and your Bowie knife, but NOT the modified assault rifle, has your right to keep and bear arms been violated? You still have guns, right? Just not every kind of gun you want to have.

I guess our little semantics game should end on “rights.” Are “rights” about what we should be able to do or are they about being able to do every little thing our heart desires … like owning that modified AR-15?  I guess it’s up to us to answer that question.

luv u,

jp

Light work.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

Okay, ready? On three … one, two, THREE! Arrrgh. I meant, on the count of three LIFT the freaking thing, not wave your hands in the air. What the hell’s the matter with you? It’s like you just don’t care.

Yeah, I guess you could say we’re having a little moving party here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, Big Green’s adopted home for the last two decades. (I think we technically have squatter’s rights, but what law is there in a place such as this?) No, we’re not vacating the premises – far from it. I just wanted to move my piano from one room to another. No particular reason. Maybe that’s why I can’t get any cooperation out of this crew. I KNEW I should have done one of those leadership retreats! Curses.

Sure, there are useful things we could all be doing, but who’s got the time for that? I mean, I’ve been putting off restringing our borrowed electric guitar for about two weeks now. That sucker isn’t going to string itself, right? Things just keep getting in the way. Like Marvin (my personal assistant) – he got in the way yesterday when he was vacuuming the hall. To get to the guitar, I would have had to maneuvered around him. And well … I just don’t feel like stringing the guitar, Put your back into it!that’s the point. You see? When all else fails, the truth will out!

While we’re not moving things around at random, we are actually working on a music project. As I mentioned last week, it’s kind of similar to our first album in that we’re reworking some of the songs Matt wrote as low-rent Christmas gifts in the 1980s and 90s. The biggest difference is that we’re recording it for the podcast … and we’re twenty years older than we were for 2000 Years To Christmas. So this may sound more crotchety … or not. But hey … it’s free, right? To us, you’re all kids, and on Sundays, kids eat free. In fact, in my book, kids always eat free. That’s how we roll.

So, let’s put the piano the fuck over there, and let’s get recording, damn it. Christmas is almost here, right?

War and remembrance.

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I mentioned last week that I have some problems with the Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War. That was on the basis of just the first episode, so to be fair, my comments were a bit preliminary. I have not seen much of it since – just the odd half-hour here and there. (Frankly, it’s hard for me to come up with 18 hours of viewing time over the course of a week or two.) That said, the episodes I’ve seen since the first installment have done nothing to change my estimation of the overall project. It’s important to get many and varied perspectives from American veterans; I’m all for that. But the Vietnamese perspective that I’ve seen thus far has been very limited and two-dimensional. Further, the narrative seldom departs from the neo-imperial framing that has always defined mainstream retrospectives on this brutal war.

Vietnam war seriesWe’re told, for instance, that in 1969 Hanoi would not consider an agreement that would leave the Saigon government in place. Actually, it wasn’t just Hanoi; it was a large percentage of the people under the dictatorial governance of South Vietnam – at least those who had not already been brutalized, burned to a cinder or chopped to pieces by that late date. One important point that’s getting lost in this series is the fact that the vast majority of ordinance dropped by the U.S. in Vietnam was dropped on South Vietnam, not North Vietnam. This is reflective of that imperial framing – South Vietnam was “ours” to rampage over, so look elsewhere. Also, perhaps I’m missing too much, but virtually all of the atrocities I’ve heard described in this series have been on the anti-Saigon side. (I hope this is just a reporting error on my part.) And the picture they paint of Le Duan is practically that of a ruthless super villain, “Dr. No” figure.

No such depictions on the American side – just a lot of well-meaning actors gone awry. And seemingly very little reliance on official documentation from the period. I’m hearing a lot of recorded phone calls and office conversations, but not even contemporaneously available material like excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, let alone subsequent declassified documentation. The authors seem unaware of or uninterested in American planners’ thinking on why the war was being fought in the first place; the danger of a good example of independent development, outside of the U.S.-run system; the desire to provide a recovering Japan with markets, raw materials, and labor and (post-1949) to prevent them from accommodating to communist-led China.

I will watch more, of course, but I am not sanguine about this effort. We are currently in the midst of a 16-year conflict in Afghanistan. It would help to understand the last pointless, seemingly endless conflict a lot more clearly than this series allows.

luv u,

jp

Summer’s end.

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Here comes the sun … and there it goes, right over the back of the mill. Must be autumn. This place is like freaking Stonehenge – you can set your watch to the movement of the shadows.

Well, the season passing doesn’t mean much around here. I’ll be honest: we of Big Green never went in for summer activities in a big way, so the warm months are just about keeping out of the sun and wearing open newspapers on your head like a tent. Unless you’re Matt, of course, who wears a hat and spends half of his life out amongst the wild critters, rain or shine, snow or hail, you name it. The rest of us? We all busy ourselves with indoor activities, like bending pretzels and juggling priceless objets d’art. (That last one we don’t do a real lot. Like, well … never.)

It’s hard to keep track of what our entourage is doing in any given season. Some are more active than others. Anti-Lincoln, for instance, had and idea for a discount retail business. He was going to plant it right next door to Dollar General and call the store Quarter Colonel. His business plan was to undercut the competition – everything in Dollar General is a buck; everything in Quarter Colonel would be a quarter. The cash registers were ringing in his Four score and seven blue light specials agohead like the bells of St. Mary. I know Lincoln had a reputation, perhaps apocryphal, of being a humble, frugal man of simple tastes, so true to form, his anti-matter self is the exact opposite. He’s going to OWN north central Little Falls, NY …. OWN IT!

Marvin (my personal robot assistant) has been busy these waning weeks of summer. He’s mostly been checking his way through my to-do list. Hey … don’t look at me like that. What would YOU do if YOU had a personal robot assistant? At least I’m not sending him out to some local small business to earn money for my ass. Though he was working for a time at a five and dime. (His boss was Mr. Magee). I don’t think I have to tell you how that turned out.

So, bring on the fall, people. We’ve got a pack of songs ready to record. Let’s track this mother! Ya-ho, ta-ho.

Week that was (again).

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Man, this week has been a clusterfuck. Not sure exactly where to begin, but I guess the best option is just to dive right in.

The Zombie Rises. Repeal and replace is back again this week, this time advanced by GOP senators Graham and Cassidy, and it’s the predictable formula. They basically want to block grant the program, including the Medicaid portion of it, which is the Republican’s favorite target just lately. According to a study cited by the Washington Post, 34 states would lose funding, and the states with Medicaid expansion and relatively generous benefits would be the biggest losers. It will also throw millions off of their coverage – no surprise there. The only thing that can stop this now is, well … us. Call, march, occupy, whatever you can manage. Delay this vote until after 9/30 and it will be dead for a while longer, at least, and that’s the best we can manage under the circumstances (i.e. good enough).

Active crime sceneHurricane Maria. What a horrible storm, and the fact that it took such a cruel path through an already distressed group of islands is heartbreaking. Puerto Rico, already flattened by international finance, has lost power entirely, perhaps for weeks or even months. Their grid is 44 years old, due to such a constricted colonial financial situation. Where is the outrage for the ill-treatment of these working Americans, Trump supporters? Crickets.

Mexico Quake. There’s a sickening regularity to this recent crop of disasters; a hurricane coinciding with an earthquake in Mexico. Again, suffering piled on top of suffering among a populace singled out by our president as the source of all of our woes. And as is so often the case, the lack of public investment in communities makes the disaster more serious than it needs to be. Such an outrage.

Hello, World! Speaking of the source of all of our woes, Donald Trump made his “debut” at the United Nations General Assembly, and duly threatened North Korea with total destruction. Withered talking heads like Joe Scarborough and David Ignatius found some encouraging themes in this poorly-wrought mad man’s tirade, but that’s just residual affection for the American empire. Trump waved the bloody shirt and threatened the world from that podium, and the threat was lost on no one. No doubt about it: Cheney’s back in charge.

Vietnam Revisited. I could write a whole column about Ken Burn’s latest effort to retell history, but suffice it to say that he appears not to have strayed much from the mainstream “bungling efforts to do good” narrative. Another lost opportunity to clarify this loathsome episode.

luv u,

jp

Old stock.

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I think it’s over there, in that cardboard box. No, no – not that one! The one under that one. Or the one under that. I don’t know, just start opening boxes – I’ll tell you when to stop.

Oh, yes, that’s right … I have a fourth wall. Hello, then. What are we doing? Thanks for asking. We are digging through the Big Green archives again. And when I say “archives”, I’m talking about something that’s really much more rudimentary than that term suggests. Call it a series of boxes, some of which have the Kellogg rooster emblazoned on their side. Then there’s those round Quaker Oats boxes …. I used to make pretend ham radios out of those.

What we’re searching for is, well, some ideas for this year’s Christmas pageant extravaganza. Amazingly, there’s a lot of holiday material that hasn’t been released or even heard for the last ten years. Matt did, what, ten years of Christmas tapes, between 1986 and 1995, with one added on after that for good luck. We’ve got an enormous backlog of 4-track cassette recordings from that period, essentially demos, which we can harvest and repurpose like, I don’t know, sorting through a junk yard for something useful. Don’t ask me for metaphors this early in the morning!

So whatcha got, Lincoln?Now, I don’t want to leave you with the false impression that we are constantly recycling music from days of old. Not a bit of it! In fact, the songs on our last THIS IS BIG GREEN – Ned Trek extravaganza are all brand spanking new (and probably in need of that spanking). Not that we haven’t reached into the old grab back in past episodes. Usually around the holidays we start rummaging around for something that will fill a hole in the production. I’m thinking maybe we should just patch in some video of a local 2nd grade school orchestra playing Jingle Bells. Now THAT’S entertainment, people. (Literally every one of those cute little critters playing the same note, all together.)

Okay, so … yes, we’ll be working on a Christmas show. Because that’s how we roll here at Big Green. Next podcast will be another non-musical Ned Trek, then who knows … an actual album? Yikes!