Music. The incredible Crispin Sartwell and I had a brief discussion of Etta James over at his blog “Why the Selection of Newt Gingrich for Pope is part of my master plan to save the universe?” Crispin’s Blog is highly recommended if you’re looking for a IFC sort of always on, sort of off philosopher with a rock and roll bent. (Except for the fucking card tricks, which can rapidly devolve to the level of cat pictures.) Basically, we agree that Etta James was incredible as a performer although, as with many blues and rock and country and fucking Tibetan throat singers her earlier, simpler stuff was better. Some of her producers were like second rate Chet Atkins adding strings and horns to something that just needed more bass, stronger rhythm and more reverb! There are exceptions to this general rule – musicians mature and get better and more interesting and versatile. Marianne Faithful falls into this category, I think as do The Allman Brothers, Emmy Lou Harris and Steve Earle. But as her range decreased and her weight ballooned and plummeted– cocaine, heroin, abuse, and gastric by-pass add up to a helluva drug combination – she remained a great performer but a different one.
Etta James is definitely in the Edith Piaf-Billie Holliday-Tammy Wynette tradition of female singers on the edge –victimized and exploited but never a victim. I refuse to see her death as tragic. Pretty sure she ran out of steam – pneumonia, diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure, kidney failure and dialysis –and is no longer in pain. The behavior of her family in fighting over who was going to control her estate testifies to something about human nature…as a general rule, people suck.
In general, 2011 and early 2012 have not been great for the Blues. Lots of incredible talent has died—what I find interesting is that they seem to be surviving to ripe old ages which is kind of re-assuring. Etta James was 73; Johnny Otis was in his late 80s; Hubert Sumlin was in his 80s. While there have been some really smart band leaders like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Earl Keene over the years who made their musicians pay into Social Security and Medicare, the traditional musician ends up either so rich it doesn’t matter or more likely – very much more likely – dead broke or surviving based on income from some other source like Matt Murphy and Blue Moon Marini, working as fry cooks in a catfish diner. The Blues Review has a good summary of the folks who crossed over to play in St Michael’s Blues Band in 2011.
Afghanistan. Norman Mailer wrote an allegorical novel in the late 60s called Why are we in Vietnam? Basically, the answer seemed to be because we can. Not a great answer to an important question, but despite the geo-political nonsense, it really seems that ultimately that was the answer. Somebody had a great fucking idea, and then it went sideways. Well, if Vietnam went sideways, Afghanistan has spun into an entirely different dimension.
You know, the Russians advised us against this; Russian officers asked both formally and informally if we were fucking crazy or what? Well, Afghanistan made sense to destroy al Queida and to kill Bin Laden. Trying to add the Afghans to the ranks of the Muslim Jeffersonian Democracies that the Neocons were inventing in Central Asia was batshit crazy and stupid. The last successful strategic victory in Afghanistan was by the Moguls who just waged a war of virtual extermination and conversion. That was a while ago. The British got their ass handed to them, continuously; the Soviet Union was destroyed as a result of their fun and games -- Stinger Missiles and the Muhajadeen did more to make Gorbachov tear down the wall than Reagan was awake for -- and now we're stuck. The Brits are leaving; the French are leaving; the Dutch are leaving. We should be going and get gone.
Look, some Afghans wanted us to toss the Taliban out and to have some cultural and economic liberation. They got it. Now they want us to leave. The people who wanted us to leave still want us to leave only more so. The people we're training, arming, feeding and supplying in the Afghan Army and Police Force want us to leave, express hatred for us and are shooting NATO trainers. Karzai is threatening to make a seperate peace with the Taliban and fight with Pakistan against us. Pakistan is having fun cutting the lines of communication. Anybody in the mood for The March of the 10000?
We're stuck and losing soldiers, money, prestiege and influence in a war we don't understand and can't win. Outside of waging a war of extermination and then paving the goddamn place so Pakistan and India can use it as a parking lot, there is no up side and no effective strategy going forward. The war made slightly more sense at the time and was less costly than the Iraq debacle. That didn't make it a good idea; and every day we're not withdrawing a lot and figuring out how to disengage is a really bad plan on our part. Afghanistan has been broke since Alexander visited it in 400 BC or so; why did we choose to pick up the Pottery Barn receipt on this one?
It's a brutal, awful theo-klepto-psycho-cratic place. So, have a wide open asylum program for people who want the hell out. As for the rest, isolate it like the geo-political virus it represents and let them cheerfully kill each other.
What the Hell is Going on With the Republican Party? Well, damned if I know, but I suspect that we're getting to see a rare instance of devolution. I find the symbolic nature of South Carolina's "war with the Federal Government" to use Rick Perry's phrase interesting. There most be something about the water in the Gamecock state. I heard a member of the executive branch of State Government say that he's an Evangelical Christian, a Tea Party Member and a Romney supporter...ok, how can you call yourself a Christian and be a Libertarian? I asked that question on Twitter, wondering if there was some special version of the Bible for these people. Some one responded to me to the effect that there was, most of the Old Testament. Well, Lewis Black had put that to rest a couple of years ago, despite everything else. "Why does he believe that? He read it in the Old Testament which is the book of my people, the Jewish People...which wasn't good enough for you Christians...was it!?"
So, assuming that it's possible to somehow be a Christian and cheer for executions and letting people die and not caring for the poor, indigent and helpless but to focus on stoning women and using the bible to spread Free Enterprise, how can you be a Christian-Libertarian and a Romney supporter?
Now, I kinda liked Michelle Bachmann. She's insane, of course, and kind of attractive in a depressed-MILFy-madwoman kind of way. An evening with Michelle Bachmann would be like taking a car ride with Lucy Jordan on amyl nitrate and Ecstasy...and lots of ritalin. Jon Huntsman seemed like a reasonable guy with a lot of great ideas compared to whatever the hell Perry, Santorum, Paul and Romney had for ideas. But, what the hell, he started babbling in Mandarin, and these people are largely opposed to things like public education...what was he, some kind of Metrosexual Communist? After watching and listening to Santorum a bit, I wonder if he doesn't realize exactly how crazy he is; could Rick Santorum be a double-agent of the devil, trying to give Evangelical Christians who are Catholics a really bad name?
So, the obvious non-Romney face of the Republican party is actually Newt Gingrich. Barney Frank has been on the record saying that he had not thought that he had lived a good enough life to deserve a presidential campaign where Newt Gingrich was going to be the Republican nominee. Well, there's a way to go yet, but I'm betting Barney has a bunch of angry Catholic friends lighting candles all over Boston and Cambridge because nothing short of divine intervention explains the second coming of Newt Gingrich. And now, the third.
Now, as a lifelong Democrat, I have to admit to staying home for the first election I could vote in, George McGovern in 1972. Nor did I vote for Jimminy Carter, which I kind of regret. Nor Mondale. Nor Dukakis. However, by the time Clinton ran, I had come to accept that by not voting I was voting -- not caring was allowing the greater of two evils or an actual evil or an innocuous with good intentions to triumph with my ok. So, I started voting...but, the Democrats had gone through a period of ideologically driven purity and pie in the sky social engineering dreams that were insanely unsupportable and unelectable. So, a lot of us stayed home for a couple of decades. Well, the left-center-moderates should be able to see and understand what that did for us really well after the Congressional debacle of 2010. It's really kind of simple -- in normal circumstances not including defeating totalitarianism or preserving the union -- government will occur best when it's plus or minus 20-40% from the middle. The pendulum will swing, and the wider the variation from the national consensus the crazier will be the correction.
Now, Barrack Obama has advocated policies and programs and legal solutions to the right of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, (two famous American communists, just ask the John Birch Society) which seem to some to radically socialist and Kenyan. Among the some is, of course, Newt Gingrich. Mr. Meglomania. Gingrich is using racial buzzwords, playing to the old Southern Strategy...How can you be Black and a Republican? How can you be Gay and be a Republican? How can you be Mexican and be a Republican? How full of self-loathing do you really have to be? Or how unaware?
The Master of Disaster...so, I think the Republican Party is wandering around in the conspiracy-paranoid riven ideological desert that the Dems spent the 70s and 80s in. Could get interesting...should get interesting...might even get better. For a while...but then you have Democrats cutting education in their Tea Party state budget proposal by $53M but tossing Noah's Fun's Family Fun and Dinosaur Theme Park a $50M tax break. How full of self-loathing does a Democratic Governor have to be to recommend some insanity like that? I suppose it might create a few low paying park attendant jobs, more than making up for the loss of teaching positions. Now, if Rand Paul and Yertle Turtle McConnell can get Kaintuck an exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act they can probably hire pre-teens to work there and in the schools for 30 cents an hour. Kinky will have to update his version of El Paso...Cretin from Kentucky?