Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The DeLay is Over

Stand down...boy. Posted by Picasa

the scribe was going to post a loving essay/homage to the Andalusian poet, Juan Ramón Jimenez today, but Tom DeLay got indicted. Heck, the effect these crooks are having on American culture is staggering. highwayscribery has lit blog pretensions, but with (r)epublicans (Safavian, Frist, Brown, Abramoff) clogging up the courtrooms, deposition offices, and hearing chambers of this country, it’s tough to get around to the poetry.

Not that the Democrats are strangers to this kind of stuff, they’ve reveled in it, which is what got them into their present troubles.

But these are the (r)epublican “revolutionaries” of '94 with their “honesty and integrity,” their no government purity, and their “Jesus is Lord” cant.

So let’s see what the impact of a political alliance with God has been.

The “New York Times,” quoting directly from the indictment handed down there in Texas, said: "The defendants [DeLay wasn’t alone in this], entered into an agreement with each other, or with Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, to make a political contribution in violation of the Texas election code...”

The Texas election code! Imagine how loose that thing is and how foul one must have behaved to well, run afoul of it.

Back to the indictment: “The contribution was made directly to the [r]epublican National Committee within 60 days of the general election.”

What’s it all mean you ask?

Let the scribe connect some dots for you. After juicing the (r)epublican contingent running for office with ill-gotten corporate gains, the party took control of the Texas legislature for the first time since U.S. Grant sent the army down to Austin and put nigras and nigra-lovers ta runnin’ things.

That was back when Democrats were for slavery and Republicans against it (now it's the other way around).

Anyway, the (r)epublicans elected on corporate money arranged for by DeLay from his powerful perch in Washington D.C., couldn’t wait until their seats were warm to redraw the congressional districts in Texas to suit their aims, needs, and ambitions.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, back when legislators made believe they were gentlemen, they made a gentlemen’s agreement about when districts would be redrawn...and this was not when it was supposed to happen.

Texas Democrats, who could smell DeLay’s skunky hands all over the affair, literally left the state so that there would be no quorum and the redrawing would thus be stalled.

In a moment of infamy, DeLay contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to try and track these legislators down and return them to Texas so he could ram the redistricting through.

That was, on top of unethical, probably illegal. What with the dikes of (r)epublican suppression finally collapsing (pardon the Katrina metaphor), time may come when DeLay has to face the music on that affair, too.

Anyway, they managed to round up one turncoat Dem, of which there are always a few on hand, to return and give them their quorum. They redrew the districts and the (r)epublicans subsequently picked up SIX, count ‘em, SIX new Texas seats in the debacle of 2004.

And now the bill’s due.

DeLay is the House majority leader and a damn harsh one. His own political kin refer to him as “The Hammer” and his announcement this morning that he would stand down for a while, is a welcome respite for our democracy and citizens.

Stand down...boy.

Does this mean the elephant tribe will be swept from power in the 2006 midterms? Don’t place any bets. It’s just a matter of time before Scarborough and Hannity and the rest of the paid hacks whom work for the administration go on-air and explain how all the corruption is good and that if the (r)epublicans didn’t have to contend with an opposition made up of people WHO HATE AMERICA they wouldn’t have to grub off corporations to win elections.

All of which would be a lot more fun if there weren’t a war going on, but there is. Here are two statements issued this very morning by California’s (g)overnor (a)rnold (s)chwarzenegger:

[g]ov [a]rnold [s]chwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Staff Sgt. Daniel R. Scheile of Antioch:

“Staff Sgt. Scheile stood proudly beside his fellow soldiers and fought with fortitude and bravery. Maria and I send our deepest sympathies to Daniel’s family and will keep them in our prayers. His noble sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Scheile, 37, died September 24, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his M113 armored personnel carrier in Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Oakdale, CA.

In honor of Scheile, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.


[g]ov. [a]rnold [s]chwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Brian E. Dunlap of Vista:

“Maria and I want to convey to Sgt. Dunlap’s family that we are forever indebted to Brian for giving his life to the cause of freedom. Californians are deeply grateful for his courage and dedication to service of this country.”

Dunlap, 34, died Sept. 24, from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Taqaddum, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve’s 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Los Alamitos, CA. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Dunlap, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

We Blame the Victims

The Gray Lady, our formidable “New York Times,” ran a Web page story on Monday night Tuesday morning (now gone) on how the victims of Katrina are about to be screwed by the bankruptcy reform bill passed by the (r)epublican-led Congress and signed by their friend in the White House.

Here’s the lede from Mary Williams Walsh and Riva D. Atlas: “When Congress agreed this spring to tighten the bankruptcy laws and crack down on consumers who took on debt irresponsibly, no one had the victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind.”

Were they capable of such clairvoyance, our congressional leaders would have kept it out of the picture anyway.

There is nothing to help distinguish “responsible” consumers in trouble, from those that are not, and the effect of the bill was to deliver goodies to the (r)epublicans favorite welfare target – corporate America.

Of course, as the article notes, “[M]any once-solvent Katrina victims are likely to be caught up in the net intended to catch deadbeats.”

Again, that’s because a net’s a net. It’s dropped for tuna, it kills dolphins, and so it goes, the ham-hand of (r)epublican governance.

The article goes on to point out that Democrats, with some truly compassionate folk from the other side of the aisle, wanted to “reopen” the bill and make sure storm victims, which would be pretty easy to prove if you were one, get a little relief from the new bankruptcy regime.

And here’s a surprise: “But House [r]epublicans, who fought off a proposed amendment that would have made bankruptcy filings easier for victims of natural disasters [that was a worthy cause], said there was no reason to carve out a broad exemption just because of the storm.”

Well, how about a not-so-broad-exemption that says if you lost everything in the hurricane, you get a break from hounding creditors?

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (r), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said “no” to legislative relief on the hurricane front and said the lawmakers who lost the long fight over the law, “ought to get over it.”
Those who “lost” you see. Not Americans, but winners and losers.

For those of you burdened with the abbreviated historical memory most Americans possess, Sensenbrenner’s one of the pieces of shit who wasted the country’s time, and abandoned its security, to the tiresome impeachment President Clinton.

Here’s this prick’s number (202) 225-5101. the scribe has already called him, you should too!

According to, Rep. Sheila Jackson, a Berkeley Democrat and the only person in the House to oppose the original resolution authorizing (w) to go to war, had this to say at the time of the bankruptcy bill’s passage:

“Families that are affected by natural disasters such as a hurricane in Florida or the mudslides in California should not have to apply their scarce relief effort monies to bankruptcy debt. The intent in providing federal and state monies to families who are victims of such natural disasters is to relieve the burden that the disaster has caused, not to increase their net worth. Bankruptcy reform should address many specific issues, such as the negligent mismanagement of money, but to hurt those who are already suffering from flooding or a collapsed roof or house that has gone out to sea is absolutely ridiculous.”


And why, cooking under klieg lights Katrina hath summoned, would a (r)epublican already nervous about his midterm election prospects hold firm on screwing victims?

Because lobbyists for credit card companies are holding the reins and riding them hard, whispering in their waxy ears: “We’ll take their money no matter what the circumstances.”

That’s the free market folks. Anyone who’s ever called Capitol One or Aspire for a little love and understanding knows what I’m talking about.

But it’s all okay, because here in the U.S. of A., we blame the victims who are are the last ones able to help themselves and hence the easiest pickings for those who are stronger, for those who would prey.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Disarming an Armory

It has been reported that the Irish Republican Army (IRA), successful purveyors of violence against civilian populations for decades, has been disarmed.

We don’t want to discourage efforts to curb armed violence and applaud the development with the caveat that it is good so far as it goes.

Disarmed, the IRA can rearm in a minute.

It has always been a theory almost exclusively the scribe’s that the panorama of endless violence that threatens each of us in every corner of the world can be tied to the successful marketing of arms worldwide.

People need them, so the sell’s not hard, but were it that every global industry was as successful at penetrating the nooks and crannies of the market in the way the arms-peddlers are.

We are reaping what they, and the governments that sustain and patronize them, hath sowed. A world awash in arms. Arms available in a flash for a price.

Back when the scribe was young and toying with insurrection as politics, he lamented to a friend, a former Marine, that arms technology was getting so advanced that all street-born rebellion would soon be crushed.

Not so, Joe Bender said, “the technology always trickles down to the street.”

And the spiral of available violence soars.

And so it goes. In Mesopotamia, a bunch of guys using washing machine timers to trip their bombs have locked the mightiest army the world knows in a deadlock.

The IRA can get money and if they can get that, they can purchase the violence they feel they need. Walk across the street to the pub, order a pint, pick up a phone and make a call. The rest is an old habit.

As it is for too many others.

In the Organized Violence on a Large-Scale Department: It must be observed that the war protests over the weekend failed to garner much resonance in the media. They were not ignored, rather treated with journalistic time and courtesy, but off-pitch in the political moment.

Such are the perils of grass-roots politics. While the movement was marshaling its troops and resources over a five-month period a tropical hurricane shoved America a few steps forward into history.

Folks ended up with a better story for bringing down Bush, who went ahead and brought himself down anyway.

But the war is burning under the surface like nobody’s business. The situation worsens, the ship of state rudderless, the administration lost without an election to aim for, and the country slipping from their hands and out of anybody’s control.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 40

Chapter Forty Chapter Forty (Chapter One ran on April 9, 2005).

Joya was downtown where penniless painters, homeless people, and municipal employees with overstated titles spent their days.

It was a part of the city not without charm if you liked grime or cigarette butts smashed black and rust into dead concrete. Connoisseurs of the past could find a brass spittoon and trolley track residue there with a lustrous patina of soot to boot.

During the day it had the ol’ hustle-n-bustle. Short, brown and hook-nosed garment workers filled the buildings of its historic core and packed its streets and buses at dusk. At night, skulking shadows of discarded and lonely spirits hung like cutouts on the Devil’s Christmas tree.

Not that folks hadn’t tried to improve the described state of affairs. Quite the contrary. Downtown was a veritable test-tube of urban experimentation. Billions had been poured into it over the years in an effort to combat the passion of the populace for a front lawn and/or backyard. It had not worked and probably never would, but there were pockets of improvement and these were utilized by the banking class, a smattering of industrialists, and the indefatigable lions of City Hall who never tired of trying to make the city center something other than what it was, something like it had once been.

Naturally, not a single plan for renovation ever proposed even mentioned the unfortunate who lived there. Instead their focus was on where to put a superior breed pulled in from outlying areas by the promise of boutiques and coffee shops.

Joya was riding around in a fancy car that a city attorney had no business owning, loving the whole strange visit. It was like parachuting into another country or a movie set where people lived in cities they no longer live in. She made icky faces at the sight of canker sores on the bare feet of those not as fortunate to enjoy a pair of coconut-clunking big boots. She wondered at the reaching buildings and at what it might be like to live boxed-off, up in the sky. The city attorney was pointing out triumphs of architecture and style that she would have never noticed because the oppressive misery matrix overwhelmed whatever pockets of beauty enduring.

She found him to be enthusiastic about efforts to change things and the role he played, or claimed to play, in them. Driving with one hand, city attorney used the alternate appendage to enumerate with manicured fingertips the monies to be sprung for the renewal of opera houses, art museums and other such stuff attended, however lamentably, by a handful of people with time for specialized tastes and refinement.

She looked around her and had mostly sad sightings. She thought how there probably wasn’t a thing that could be done to revive a place that everyone had run from.

Joya said, “Well hell! Before the opera house they ought to put up a few portable toilets so they don’t do their business in the street.”

“Already have,” he said assuredly, “but the prostitutes use them for places to entertain their johns.”

“They use the john for the johns!”

She found this funny, but he was permitted, under no circumstances whatsoever, to laugh at something like that. He played it serious and it was quite beyond Joya how this man, dedicated to public service, found the strength to carry on with so much evidence as to the utter hopelessness of it all. Still, she couldn’t help but admire his ability to carry on the good fight.

Of course, the good fight was, in the end, all about career and the upward helium drift of the ambitious politician. He stood as yet another example of undeniable wisdom in the modern master-plan for harnessing a person’s selfishness to the (hopefully) commonweal’s benefit.

“See these buildings?” And he waved his free arm all around them. “During the day they’re filled with sweatshops; long, sweeping, street-long loft spaces packed with hundreds of Mexican girls and boys sewing the clothes you and your fashion-frenzied friends pay so much money for.”

Joya thought that was something of an odd thing to come from the mouth of the city’s chief enforcer of laws and she said so. “Aren’t sweatshops illegal?”

“Of course,” he said in apparent mirth.

“Well why don’t you do something about it then?”

“What can I do? That’s an imposed reality, from on-high.”

“What about the lesbian city councilwoman?”

“Ha!” and he chuckled. “She has even less power than I do.” Joya wasn’t rock-solid informed on the hierarchy of city officeholders so it was all good information.

“What if she became mayor?” She was curious.

“Then she’d be a weak mayor.”

“We couldn’t have that,” she tried to sound cynical.

He shrugged. “Depends on just how much bidding you’d like the mayor to do on your behalf. On what you’d actually like to get done.”

“What if I wanted to get a lot done?”

“I wouldn’t expect much from a lesbian.”


Joya was enjoying a little game people with alternative sexual tendencies like to play which is not available to, let’s say, Black people who can never dissimulate their skin tone. It was not fair either, and was beneath Joya, but the gambit did not go too far because the city attorney suddenly began a winded endorsement of the lesbiancitycouncilperson: “Nothing’s been handed to her. This game is hard enough without having to be scorned by a good many of your fellow citizens. She’s alright, I like her.”

He pulled up to a valet station in front of a well-lit and beautifully designed restaurant located at the bottom of a tall building on an otherwise abandoned street. Slumping, disjointed collections of dirty laundry rumbled close in only to be chased away by the security guard. “That’s alright, that’s alright,” said City Attorney (as Joya liked to call him), “let ‘em come here.” And he ripped some bills from a roll and handed them to three different beggars.

“Hey City Attorney, those are twenty-dollar bills!” Joya jumped at his showboating.

“Ah, if you’re going to give them something, give them a meal.”

Where Joya came from, City Attorney was what they called a liberal, but he didn’t seem half-bad.

The restaurant itself was all exquisiteness and fine service. Joya was no novice, no innocent country girl (though she could play the part) and this was no introduction to a better world. She knew how to behave and knew how to enjoy and once they stopped talking about politics some equilibrium was restored to the power balance between them. She matched his city bigwig aura with her own qualities of certified glossy girl and fancy piece of sex; a creature that commands vast privileges when her gifts are properly marshaled.

Cautious as he was about public image, and leery as she was about losing control in the company of a powerful man, they both got a little tipsy on martini juice. He called it ‘mind syrup’ and she laughed at the way he was able to stimulate her. He never made the clumsy move and his brilliance bathed in halo light things that would have seemed uncouth in others. “He is,” she kept saying to herself, “not a prick.”

And oh, how she had wanted him to be one for there was business at hand and skinning a skunk is easier than skinning an otter.

The place was winding down, the dinner was inflating with pauses both pregnant and sterile, and Joya asked the waiter if it were alright to have a smoke.

This made City Attorney uncomfortable for two reasons; the first being more obvious than the second. He didn’t want to be involved in breaking a law given it was his job to enforce it. But when he protested on this count, Joya slyly brought up the matter of sweatshops.

He’d always thought he desired a girl interested in the issues, but wasn’t so sure now, for he had a politically correct answer that would prove unsatisfactory to this rather unique specimen.

Second, and more unsettling, was the fact he felt she was wielding his power. After all, why would the waiter or restaurateur deign to piss-off the city attorney by telling his date she couldn’t smoke a silly cigarette?

And like all powerful people, he decided not to let it happen. City Attorney took a deep breath and resorted to his first reason with a sweetener thrown in to avoid the comebacker he was anticipating. He said it was against the law, that it wasn’t right for him to be seen breaking it, and that he’d be glad to stand with her, even share the cigarette if she would only “please” agree to do so outside. She thought it over. The evening’s success hung in the balance when he suddenly threw in the clincher, thrilled as he was to be hanging with a woman at once so attractive, cool, yet up to his speed: “I’ll be an associate member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club...for a minute.”

A big wide smile cracked across her face at the reminder of her new friends and the notoriety they had achieved.

Oh hope. The motives of everyone’s favorite person/character in this screed were not so pure, even if they were devoted to the benefit of another.

“Alright,” Joya shimmied to her feet with just enough booty action to catch his eye.

Outside she warmed to her purpose; began to work on him about the city ordinance against smoking indoors. City Attorney briefly yearned for one of the many bubbleheads who’d dated him without an inkling of what it was he actually did. “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it, politically speaking.”

“City Attorney, you have a ten-foot pole?”


“You could get us our freedom back,” she countered.


“The Sidewalk Smokers Club, hon!” and with that she gave him a peck on the cheek.

His jaw dropped. She stuck the cigarette in his mouth. He instinctively scanned the area, without moving his head, to register whom was watching the scandalous act and all he saw was a Latino valet who was probably unregistered to vote, if not illegal altogether. The Latino vote was going, in any case, to another candidate. So he relaxed and drew upon it – the cigarette. There was that slight hitch in the chest endemic to nonsmokers who choose to break their golden rule on some special occasion and he made the proper adjustment before pulling twice.

It hit just right. His taste buds came alive with the memory of his meal (extending its pleasure-time) and the brown-leaf alchemy combined. It returned him to another time, long ago, underneath the bleachers in a wintery place where the cold beer adjusted his body temperature to the surroundings and rosy-cheeked girls promised unfathomable ecstasies in the dark.

“I’m really having fun being in your club,” he told her and Joya realized that something had gone terribly wrong. First, she found herself liking this a lot, and that was not supposed to happen. She’d gone undercover and let the role overtake her. Second, the night had grown so pleasant and glowing that her further plan for talking some soft sense into City Attorney about his pursuit of the Angel Without
Mercy now seemed inappropriate.

Instead, he drove her home. They sat quietly. This cultured man and his well-stacked stereo system delivered a layered piece of orchestral musings that framed perfectly Joya’s interrupted night. She wanted sex. Any kind of sex. They sealed things off with a kiss and a promise to meet again.

She clip-clopped to her house, swaying this way and that; a tall building in a growing swirl of wind and energy.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Animals

Fears of West Nile Virus in the wake of Katrina evaporated when it was realized that the hurricane had scraped the landscape of birds to carry it.

An environmentalist and journalist spot a swamp gator five miles out over the gulf. Factory farm animals, cooped-up and immobile are wiped out.

It has been suggested that many stayed behind to wait out the storm, not because they did not have the money to leave, but sometimes to stay with their pets.

Now, in the exodus from Houston, pets are allowed, recognized by the force of the love behind them, into the American family.

The story of Katrina was the story of all living and dying things.

And there were good chapters to the unfolding story. The Humane Society of the United States actually beat FEMA into the region. Ready with a plan they began to rescue and place animals that would otherwise have died.

Here are some photos from the rescues and a request for money to keep them going:

Here is lightning strike campaign they are launching that urges (p)resident Bush to come up with the money needed to save the animals still remaining, and close to death. Here are some contacts they are urging you to call:

Along with the undeniable and disarming generosity towards the New Orleans community, Americans have shown a unique understanding and ability to connect with animals that puts the lie to portraits of an insensitive and selfish people.

Although we have our moments.

And the media has shown a good eye in capturing the animals’ suffering and heroism. Eye upon a national sentiment when it comes to sentient beings.

(Although they definitely have their moments.)

We feel and empathize and suffer. The battle is over whether to expand our capacity or diminish it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

From the Governor of California

These two announcements from the Governor of California:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Alfredo B. Silva of Calexico:

"As a devoted soldier, Sgt. Silva set an example of courage and determination that all Californians can admire. Maria and I send our prayers to Alfredo's family during their time of mourning."

Silva, 35, died September 15 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during patrol operations. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division, Modesto, CA.

In honor of Silva, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Shane C. Swanberg of Kirkland, WA:

"Lance Cpl. Swanberg committed himself to protecting the United States and our ideals, and we must never forget the sacrifices made by all who serve our country.

Maria and I send our heartfelt gratitude to Shane's family and loved ones."
Swanberg, 24, died September 15 from an explosion resulting from indirect fire at Forward Operating Base, Camp Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In honor of Swanberg, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Return of Intelligence?

Good things happened. Posted by Picasa
John Kerry delivered a deep-and-wide broadside against the Bush administration at Brown University on Monday Sept. 19. It represents the first real attempt by a Democrat to take the fight to a weakened administration and articulate some kind of alternative vision; something that goes beyond simply not being Bush.

The speech goes a long way toward doing that. Kerry uses the political disaster Katrina has meant for the administration, but manages to look ahead and draw distinctions between the political parties in the country, and what one of them must do to save it.

The question remains as to whether the discourse will have resonance in the national media, or if Kerry is just yesterday’s news.

We here at highwayscribery have oft-expressed a firm belief in the European parliamentary culture that sends a guy that loses an election back into the trenches instead of to the farm.

Let’s see where the Senator for Massachusetts winds up.
Hereafter we engage our favorite text game whereby the thoughts and musings of a respected thinker (Kerry) and card-carrying member of American popular culture are, without authorization, mixed in with those of the scribe, who is neither thing:

‘The truth is,” Kerry said, “that for four and a half years, real life choices have been replaced by an ideological agenda, substance replaced by spin, governance second place always to politics.”

That Kerry would say such things either attests to his slow learning ability, or the kind of strength the administration wielded going into the election and how truly tough beating them was going to be.

“Katrina reminds us that too often the political contests of our time have been described like football games with color commentary: one team of consultants against another, red states against blue states, Democratic money against [r]epublican money; a contest of height versus hair - sometimes. But the truth is democracy is not a game: we are living precious time each day in a different American than the one we can inhabit if we make different choices.”

Kerry portrays the depth of the tragedy and the urgency of its moment, but sees an opportunity and wants to point the direction. His take on the situation, political, is a first and deepest analysis of events in recent weeks by a major politician.

“Natural and human calamity stripped away the spin machine,” he continued, “creating a rare accountability moment, not just for the Bush administration, but for all of us to take stock of the direction of our country and do what we can to reverse it.”

He’s calling for a reverse here. Kerry then says to critique is not to be involved in some desultory blame game:

“This is about the broader pattern of incompetence and negligence that Katrina exposed, and beyond that, a truly systemic effort to distort and disable the people’s government, and devote it to the interests of the privileged and the powerful.”

This is what they called “fire-eating” in regional debates leading up to the Civil War. Mr. Kerry’s language is most unbecoming of a gentleman (and about time).

“It is about the betrayal of trust and abuse of power. And in all the often horrible and sometimes ennobling sights and sounds we’ve all witnessed over the last two weeks, there’s another sound just under the surface; the steady clucking of the administration’s chickens coming home to roost.”

He’s gloating here. Fox folks are very upset that some people are reveling in the (p)resident’s failures (while trying to simultaneously deny they exist) instead of rolling up their sleeves to help with Katrina problems.

Well, they’re doing both, and they are people who have been denigrated for representing a different mode of living centered around excepting modest limits over perpetual expansion, negotiation over violence, public fun over the seclusion of American life, and so why shouldn’t they stand up and say “I FREAKIN’ TOLD YOU SO!”?

Now, he pointed out, the administration is shuffling all its failed right wing think-tank-tested schemes in New Orleans.

“And the rush now to camouflage (Kerry again) their misjudgements and inaction with money doesn’t mean they are suddenly listening. It’s still politics as usual. The plan they’re designing for the Gulf Coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for right wing ideological experiments. They’re already talking about private school vouchers, abandonment of environmental regulations, abolition of wage standards, subsidies for big industries – and believe it or not, yet another big round of tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.”

Oh, we believe it alright.

John Edwards also delivered a “major” speech the same day, giving it to the administration from behind. It would be nice to think these two former running mates coordinated their attack – the way a good political party should – but they were probably working from different agendas.

Need to fix that.

Back to Kerry. “Katrina,” he said, “did happen, and it washed away the coat of paint and revealed the true canvas of America with all its imperfections. Now, we must stop this administration from again whitewashing the true state of our challenges. We have to paint our own picture – an honest picture with all the optimism we deserve – one that gives people a vision where no one is excluded or ignored. Where leaders are honest about the challenges we face as a nation, and never reserve compassion only for disasters.

“Rarely has there been a moment more urgent for Americans to step up and define ourselves again. On the line is a fundamental choice. A choice between a view that says ‘you’re on your own,’ ‘go it alone,’ or ‘every man for himself.’ Or a different view – a different philosophy – a different conviction of governance – a belief that says our great American challenge is one of shared endeavor and shared sacrifice.”

Our prayer: May this represent an end to the frat-house shout-downs and buccaneer bluster; mark a return to ideas backed by a sense of purpose.
Here's Kerry's speech without the commentary:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 39

Chapter Thirty-nine

Outside and down the street a bit, officers Thorpe and Diaz trawled the urban landscape of billboard signs, bus stop advertisements, and traffic lights, two white knights of city administration. Their charge? To protect the peoples’ right to not have smoke in the public air around them; to uphold the sanctity of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act.

They had left the department’s headquarters somewhat off balance following a surprise meeting called by higher-ups who’d noticed all the hubbub about those smokers.

Thorpe and Diaz did not deny procedures and regulations had been broken, ignored, forgotten the day of the press conference/benefit. But they’d busted up a crowd concentration problem and avoided a massive violation of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act.

“We could not let the act be mocked,” Thorpe defended.

They’d also unleashed a hellish traffic jam that was felt some 20 miles away – society being the complicated piece of machinery it is these days. And that couldn’t be good because people in-close and from afar were irate.

The officers’ conduct stunk, but the cause was just from an enforcement perspective, because The Smokers had started it all.

Thorpe and Diaz had not, to be sure, been reprimanded in any official way. They had not been scolded in any less-than-official way, either. Something strange had happened. They got a sense the brass was pleased as punch with what they’d done and that, for purposes relating purely to the institution (and in the name of vertical command structures everywhere), the bosses made a show of putting the duo through the ringer.

Mindful of how close the call had been, Diaz and Thorpe decided (without exchanging a word) to avoid such quagmires in the future and stick to the small and painstaking tasks that were their peculiar domain.

And so they were heading toward the Argentine restaurant in the secret hope of finding Yvonne outside to ogle her some. Such, as she was learning, were the unexpected perils of celebrity. People had pictures of her on the walls of their homes, on the walls of their minds. They could focus on her all day; make her into something she wasn’t.

The men drove past the restaurant quickly and noticed that there were, in fact, no Sidewalk Smokers and it could only mean one thing: there was smoking going on inside that place with the amber burn that had beckoned on so many cool nights out in the street nursing coffee in cardboard cups. They turned to each other and nodded knowingly, in the manner of so many tough-guy television portrayals from years past.

They were going in.

What they could not know was that the owner of a stylish Thai eatery – with an A for healthy standing purchased at top dollar hanging in the front door – had seen them slowly crawl by and given the Argentine restaurateur a courteous heads-up.

The Argentine received the warning with commensurate gratitude and extended an invitation to the Thai proprietor he was sure would never be accepted (and which made it all the more profitable from the small business owner’s perspective).

The Argentine hurried onto the floor and informed all clientele vulnerable to having a chunk of their ass bitten off by the gremlins of over-regulation that the smoke-out was over. All of which was regular rebellion of the old-time variety. The only thing that was missing was marijuana and teams of ragged music fans.

In any case, Yvonne, Randall and Corey didn’t blink at the news. The Argentine smiled as they rose from their seats and made their way toward the door. “Of course, jou are de Sidewalk Smokers!” and then laughed merrily now that the rats were sprung from the trap.

Out on the sidewalk, the smokers puffed long and hardy, smiling finally, at the oh-so-deserved fun part of being (in)famous. Seconds later Thorpe and Diaz came barreling around the corner from a side street where they’d hidden their car in an attempt at surprise. The SW Smokers were a little surprised, pleased even, to see the two officers who had so contributed to their well-known-ness.

The detectives, upon seeing the fashion-puffers, knew they had been stooplefeathered yet again by an ungrateful business community that couldn’t understand how they were simply doing their job making workplaces safe for workers.

The Smokers smiled at the dumbfounded duo, who managed to recuperate admirably; for it must be remembered they were working stiffs with a certain common dignity and resilience.

Thorpe smiled as suavely as his rank permitted and sauntered past them, nodding in pleasant greeting. “Evnin’,” he said in a quiet westerner kind of way.

Diaz, a little more intimidated, followed his partner’s footsteps as, together, they proceeded to put their noses to the picture window like puppies.

What they saw made blood rush to their brains. Swirling in and out of the violin player’s notes and the synthetic orchestrations of his keyboardist were ribbons of illicit smoke seeking a home at the ceiling. They looked at each other and did that shrug. They looked at the smiling Sidewalk Smokers. “Didn’t I see you in that magazine?” Thorpe groped, coarsely, verbally ripping at Yvonne. And she was deeply affected, but damned if anybody would find out: “It’s refreshing to know our public servants read the press of the day.”

It was a cut at many levels and the fireman had it coming. He looked at her long and hard. They were not done, his expression said, it was a big town that was very small, and just as they had run into each other twice in as many days, he’d be watching and (he knew) she’d be smoking.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We Kill Journalists

(!) Posted by Picasa
The Committee to Protect Journalists says the U.S. military kills journalists and doesn’t do much about finding out why it does so.

Read the Reuters report here:

The military, according to the group, has killed 13 journalists since the whole nefarious Bush-inspired affair began in March 2003.

In case you glossed over that date, the war is two-and-one-half years old now folks, with no end in sight.

the scribe was talking about this back in March when highwayscribery was first launched. The concern here was over the death of Spanish Journalist Jose Couzo who, by all accounts (and the people doing the accounting were other reporters), was victim of an intentional tank-firing into a hotel the army knew was filled with journalists ("A Dangerous Place" March 22).

Anyway, the Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Ann Cooper says, "the military has conducted full investigations into only a handful of incidents and made public its reports on just two of them."

That’s not a big surprise.

One of the few advantages to getting older is that one can remember things an increasingly larger portion of the population cannot. It’s worth the oh-so-ageless scribe to date himself just a bit to note that he remembers when people on the right, and the military in particular, blamed the loss of Vietnam on "the media."

Much the same way they are blaming Bush’s sinking presidency on the fourth estate.

The "enemy" in Iraq, and other places, has no use for the media and there’s no reason to suspect our military feels any differently. The only thing to prevent them from taking aim and firing at reporters and cameramen is our nation’s long-held belief in the value of these same people to protect the integrity of our mission as a nation: freedom.

But the Bush administration doesn’t believe that and if they don’t want to bring the military to heel, who the hell can? ("A Watchdog, Not a Lapdog," Aug. 30)

"Oh scribe, spare us your hippy mumbo-jumbo will you?"

Sure, as soon as the scribe finishes up by reporting on the plight of CBS cameraman

Abdu Amier Younes Hussein, who is definitely sporting the wrong name in the wrong times.

You can read about it by clicking this link:

But here are the particulars.

Hussein went to check out a car bombing in Mosul (first mistake, since such things diverge from the administration’s happy-face approach to what’s going on in Iraq) and got shot for his troubles.

The military said it was very sorry for shooting Hussein and then detained him for "alleged insurgent activity."

That would be fine if we did not know the narrow guidelines by which the Bush administration applies the terms "insurgent" or "enemy combatant."

Apply the Ann Coulter standard that anybody who pipes up against what we’re doing over there is merely providing aid and succor to the enemy, and the scribe, who posts regular ripostes against this miserable government, could easily be labeled the same.

"Oh, c’mon scribe. That’s your looney-lefty paranoia."

Sure it is.

What happened next is that having been lumped in with "the evil doers" who "hate freedom," Hussein has not been able to meet his lawyer or family.

That’s THE WAR ON TERROR and the Patriot Act at play. Those two things, one phone call home and the rights to chat with an attorney and get a judge to immediately explain what the hell it is you’re doing in jail, make us what we think we are: a free country.

Eliminate them and you’re no better than the Taliban, Baby Doc Duvalier, Fidel Castro, Francisco Franco, Augusto Pinochet...

If the scribe gets picked up, unnecessarily labeled an "enemy combatant," how does he clear his good name if he can’t ask the judge what a totally cool guy like him is doing in jail, or get Mrs. Scribe to go through his papers which would, undoubtedly, establish him as a pedigreed democrat in both principle and heart?

CBS, which is no small-fry, can’t get this guy out despite having spent tens of thousands of dollars to do so. And if they can’t get him out, who the hell can?

We’re fair and balanced here at highwayscribery.

You decide.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Idiots at Every Level

Our idiot at the top. Posted by Picasa
Once again, a federal court has determined that making kids in public schools pledge an allegiance to a country “under God” is coercive.

That’s because we have separation of church and state. There are lots of religions, lots of approaches to life, and many takes on God, not to mention the absence thereof.

The court says you’re free to do it at home or in your church, but that a kid who is being raised differently (for example, the scribe’s) shouldn’t have to pledge allegiance to things he/she doesn’t believe in when they walk into a school paid for by the government.

As if (g)ov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (r) didn’t have enough to worry about with a $70 million special election that reforms nothing and a legislature that spends its days trying to embarrass him, the governator took time out from running the world’s 8th largest economy to circulate the following press release:

“As an immigrant to America, one of the proudest days of my life was when I became a citizen of the United States. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance always reminds me of the history of our nation’s founding, the principles of our great democracy and the many sacrifices Americans have made to protect our country and preserve our system of representative government.”

How the ruling affects any of these things remains a mystery, but back to Arnold...

“I believe our school children should have the ability to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in their classrooms and I urge the groups who are involved in this case to appeal today’s ruling.”

Some 200 massacred in Iraq, half a million homeless from the death of New Orleans, $3-a-gallon gas and this is what the (r)epublicans are worried about?

The thing is, when you have an idiot at the top, you have one at every level.

Our idiot at the top? The guy who asked “folks not to play politics” over Katrina, but whom won’t accept 34 tons of aid and the assistance of 1,586 doctors from Cuba.

People down south still need help and Bush still finds reasons to keep them from getting it.

He’s the one who just doesn’t seem to “get it.”

Take the help. People are suffering and they don’t care where it comes from.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Little Ado About Mucha Nothin'

the highwayscribery staff is taking a break tonight given that few people have checked out the most recent posts.

Two small orders of business however: the scribe gets a kick out of king george "taking responsiblility" for the loss of New Orleans. The people and the press, two pillars of democracy he has little use for, have already credited the disaster to (w).

Karl Rove should burst his bubble and tell him.

Again, if you have a book store or retail outlet and would like to host a reading by the scribe, of certain passages is "Vedette," to the fine flamenco groove guitar of Omar Torrez, please let us know through a comment or an e-mail (click on the little envelope at the bottom of a post). Our tentative date is November 18.

Good night.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Country, Another September 11

The Death of Salvador Allende, Sept. 11.  Posted by Picasa
Today we remember another country’s 9/11.

In 1973 Chile, one of the oldest democracies in the Western Hemisphere, was subjected to a military coup d’etat concocted largely by the Nixon administration and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The government of Salvador Allende was leftist in orientation and duly elected by the people of Chile. To view films of an overjoyed multitude marching through the capitol city following his electoral victory is to recall a kind of innocent belief in democracy's transforming power.

Eventually, and with the backing and blessing of the United States Government, a military junta led by a butcher named Augusto Pinochet literally bombed the presidential palace. Allende, according to the conquering generals, died by his own hand rather than surrender.

What you have above is the last picture of Allende alive, outside the presidential palace, machine-gun under his right arm (wearing the glasses), accompanied by his aides, looking up at the planes that had come to kill them all.

Next to it is a French cartoonist’s interpretation of 9/11; a kind of hybrid that mixes Allende’s 9/11 with those who died in New York City’s 9/11.

(p)resident Bush, you will remember, attributed the terrorists’ actions to the fact, "they hate freedom," which was to flatter a national conceit, rather than an honest assessment of the way our policies are perceived throughout the world.

The cartoon (you have to click on the image to view it in better detail) asserts that we’ve screwed a lot of people, worthwhile people, pretty badly over the years and that our chickens came home to roost on Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is a portion of Allende’s final radio address to the people of his country on September 11, 1973:

"I will pay with my life the defense of the principles that come at a price in this country. A curse will fall upon those who have violated their duty, breaking their word, and the doctrine of the armed forces.

The people should be alert and vigilant. They should not allow themselves to be provoked, nor be massacred, but should defend their conquests. They should defend their right to construct with their own might a life that is dignified, better...

..In the name of the most sacred interests of the people, in the name of this nation, I call upon to keep the faith.

For history cannot be detained with repression or with crime. This is a hard and difficult moment, but we shall overcome it. It’s possible that they will crush us, but tomorrow will belong to the people, to the workers. Humanity will advance toward the conquest of a better life.

Countrymen, its possible they will silence the radios, and so I say farewell to you all. In this moment the airplanes fly overhead. It’s probable that they will murder us. But you should know that we are here, by way of example, to show that in this country there are those who know how to meet their obligations. I will do so by a mandate of the people and with the will and conscience of a president who maintains the dignity of his charge.

This may be the last time I will ever address you. The air force has bombed our radio stations. My words are without bitterness, without disappointment, and will be the moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath.

Soldiers of Chile, commanders-in-chief and admirals of the Navy: General Mendoza, low-rent officer who only yesterday pledged his loyalty and solidarity to the government, has now declared himself director general of the national police.

Before these deeds I have only this to say to the workers: I shall not resign. Placed in a transitional moment in history, I will pay with my life this loyalty to the people. And I can say to you with certainty that this seed we plant in the consciousness of thousands and thousands of Chileans cannot be suppressed indefinitely. They have the forces, they can bring us to our knees, but social processes cannot be detained with neither crime nor force.

History is ours and is made by the people."

Pinochet went on to rule in a brutal fashion for another 17 years or so, throwing people out of airplanes over the ocean, exterminating political opponents, and shutting down a model republic to ensure that the Chicago School of economic theory could be implemented without opposition.

In 1987, the scribe published a poem in the "The Guild Reporter," national organ for The Newspaper Guild of which he was both a card-carrying member and shop steward.

The verse was in response to press reports regarding the death of Jose Carrasco Tapia, a journalist who got picked up from his house by government "security forces" in the middle of the night and was found dead, shot 13 times, in a cemetery outside of town.

Here it is:

Don’t bring your shoes Jose Carrasco Tapia
you won’t be needing them
here in Chilay much longer
that’s what they told him
when they came at 5 a.m.
And he said
to his wife
Saint Jose +
the barefoot journalist
in a crispus attucks attack
Jose Carrasco Tapia +
the man whole damn war was declared
on he’s gone now
in a brutal way just
leave the shoes Don Jose +
you won’t be needing them where
you are going

But the real reason the scribe is delving into the horrid events of long ago, in a distant country, is rock and roll and a band that was very good at it: The Clash.

That band did a song, "Washington Bullets," which can be found on the landmark, triple-disc "Sandinista" album from 1980. It is an homage to the revolution in Nicaragua and a celebration of Jimmy Carter's restraint in allowing it to happen.

In that song the singer, the late Joe Strummer, says, "Please remember Victor Jara, in the Santiago Stadium..."

And so we will remember him here tonight at highwayscribery.

Victor Jara (HA-ra) was a guitar player, singer, and songwriter who chronicled the lives of Chile’s poor. If we were to produce them in detail, or type out some lyrics, his songs might seem, through the prism of the present upon the past, trite or maudlin.

They were anything but. They were haunting tributes that worked and moved many and revealed the soul of a sweet and tender man.

In the hours after Pinochet took control of Chile, thousands were rounded up and taken to the soccer stadium in the capitol city of Santiago. There they were tortured, shot, and "disappeared" as it was known in the vernacular of the time.

Jara was singled out for special treatment. The charming men who saved Chile from godless communism and agrarian reform took delight in breaking his hands and then daring him to sing without the benefit of a guitar.

Few witnesses survived the massacre, so we must trust or distrust the legend which has Jara singing the anthem of Allende’s Unity Party, and being joined in chorus by others awaiting their own turn to be broken on the wheel.

And then they killed him. A pop star.

Below is a picture of Victor Jara whom we remember many years after his terrible death on a September 11 that has different meanings for people in different countries.

Left, Victor Jara. Right, goings-on at the Santiago Stadium. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11, 2001 Remembered

Union Ironworkers at Ground Zero, New York City.  Posted by Picasa

Today is 9/11, the anniversary, a distinctly (r)epublican holiday, appropriated by the party for its own purposes in the 2002 midterm elections and then the presidential convocation.

That’s unfortunate, because it was a blow to the whole country and now only the half that doesn’t read much celebrates it, rolls it around in their hands, cherishes it as a gift from the electoral Gods.

But the scribe cried, too, that day. And like a true scribe he wrote, as usual, an article unsaleable and very much outside the acceptable cant being published at that terrible moment.

Today, as remembrance, the piece is reproduced. And it is done in the wake of what happened in New Orleans, the terrible “every man for himself” reality that took hold in what is, alas, the nonunion, tax-free, deregulated Dixie.

Re-reading the piece, it is clear the federal response to 9/11 was just as lame, and that it was the community in New York that saved the city rather than looted it.

New York came together not because the (p)resident finally came down out of Air Force One (again, a day late), but because it had a civic infrastructure nurtured since the 1920s, or even earlier, on the idea that a city is a collective concept, that everyone is tied together, and that “your tax money” is really our tax money with which, when properly administrated, we can work our way through the most horrible occurrence.

In Tragedy’s Wake, Give the Unions Their Dues

And so at last, beneath the specter of further tragedy, we must come together as a nation.

We purchase flags, light candles in clusters, and are pleasantly surprised at the strength we both lend to, and draw from, those around us. The magnitude of the wound afflicting us serves as an anything-but-subtle reminder of how little we can truly achieve as individuals and how thoroughly linked we are as members of the same collective union of communities.

For quite some time now, our commercial stars have been the leaders and founders of companies. We have made them poster boys and cover girls for the great individual ideal. Then came September 11 and we bore televised witness to the shattered spirit of Cantor Fitzgerald’s CEO, now bereft of 700 employees, and were reminded that without workers an employer is nothing.


That this terrible thing, or at least a large part of it, happened in a union town also meant that the media’s klieg lights were forced to illuminate these venerable organizations usually relegated to dark anonymity.

Was there anyone not struck by the rare sight of a volunteer, a construction worker, identifying himself, first and foremost, by his labor affiliation – the International Union of Operational Engineers?

Those who caught the segment saw him pointing to its logo on his T-shirt with a pride in identification befitting the newly signed member of some great sports franchise.

Who among us was not touched by the fellow-feeling, the shared grief expressed by firefighters for their fallen comrades, the “brothers” they so reverently invoked, reminding us that trade unions are, first and foremost, fraternal orders held together solely by the ideal of solidarity?

And there were the ironworkers. Volunteers who for days in a row worked alongside the firemen, confronting the same life-endangering risk. Ironworkers are not trained for rescue, but who else was there?

Ours is a society that wants to pay nothing for services led by a (p)resident who thought it best to break down the pooled resources that made us states united in common cause, into pittances for un-allied consumers.

It’s tough to say whether a more progressive tax structure, or a society of less self-absorbed individuals, would have financed rescue services equal to the Herculean task dumped upon lower Manhattan. Still, the bottom line is that New York, America – we – had nowhere to look but to a local of the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers for help.

Organized into a working and bargaining unit, highly skilled in their craft and given to laboring in a concerted way, these men proved up to the job both spiritually and physically.

There have been many reasons to cry in recent days, but watching the ironworkers strut cockily into what was literally a valley of death, insisting that there were lives that needed saving, at the very least provided a good cause for tears.

It has been a matter of public policy in this country for over 20 years now to undermine the strength of unions. The trend was born of a notion that they had become “too strong,” were un-American; that the good wages, health plans, and prosperity their members enjoyed had in some way been extorted from business and were sapping its strength.

When the (p)resident wasn’t summarily firing unionized air traffic controllers (1980), leaders of commerce were devastating democratic unionism’s ranks by dismantling the manufacturing base and sending both the wages and “recuperated” capital overseas (not “our” money, but “theirs”).

Politicians and captains of industry alike were turning this into a nation of individual contractors selling services to one another, part of nothing larger than the trajectory of our own ambitions, loyal to no one but ourselves.

Decades ago, the diabolical men who have just forced America to its knees might have targeted a factory as the ultimate symbol of national power. Instead their target, the World Trace Center, was home to many of the analysts, brokerage houses, and the very financial forces which have pushed for a fragmenting of America’s workforce, the offshore export of its factory might, and a downsizing of the corporate franchise, exalting efficiency and the bottom line over all other values.

When the horror hit – irony of ironworkers – it was remnants of a cohesive America from a bygone era that were called upon to help and whom heeded that call.

They did so without hesitation, placing the victims’ health and well-being over their own.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 38

Chapter Thirty-eight

Corey, Randall, and Yvonne were holding a club subcommittee meeting at the Argentine restaurant. Jordan was not present, but hiding out in terror, ignoring his phone. Clarisse, following some rather hard-knuckled negotiating, was taking a piece she’d given another friend over to Vindaloo Baxley’s. Joya, unbeknownst to all, was on a date with the city attorney.

Nothing quite so wicked as betrayal was going on, but natural rifts were beginning to develop in the group before the clay had even settled in the mold that had formed it. That is how such things work in a dynamic and ever-changing universe. No sooner does a movement find self-definition then it falls from the tree like an overripe fruit, initiating the process of becoming something even newer. Which is not to say The Sidewalk Smokers Club was finished. No. Such a process is long and drawn out (yet worthy of dramatization!), the inner tensions pushing and pulling at individual or allied members, providing kinetic energy manifesting itself in explosive action and creative…creative…creative something or other.

Anyway, they were gloating – at least two of them – over the headlines their clever (or inadvertent) labors had produced. Yvonne was slated for a whole series of radio interviews as well as some final and last-minute segments on some local crack-of-dawn TV magazine shows whose job it was to titillate viewers into waking consciousness. She had considerable offers from magazines competing with the true source of her renown, but she wanted to break out of that naked girl type-cast. Some other actresses, seeing how smoothly the A-list television star had turned her risky appearance into the rebellious, street capital she’d angled for, were now owning up to their own naked chapters. The numbers involved were really a little shocking.

The lesbian city councilperson had enjoyed not only a bump (up) in the mayoral sweepstakes polls, but her public appearances were baths of minor multitudes. It was the heroin of cool press at work on her doughty image.

Anyway, the point is that the whole Yvonne phenomenon was becoming downright respectable. Still, Yvonne herself could not help but be a little uncomfortable at the whole idea of having sculpted an identity for herself in this way.

They toasted with a bottle of wine, but her heart did not seem in it. Then Corey informed her that the magazine had republished copies of the infamous layout.

“Guess that’s their response, huh?” she responded, blankly sipping on a Cabernet normally too refined for their palates and wallets.

“Sure it is, man!” Randall trilled with characteristic insensitivity to the slower reasoning processes of those around him. “And it’s what we wanted. Proof you’re the object, I mean the person who actually drives their profits, and proof of your sustained appeal. You are a magazine girl, but not of the magazine girls.”

“I’m thrilled,” she said, lemon juice on her lips and tongue. “But I thought we already knew that.”

“Yes, but we wanted, needed really, to dramatize it,” he rightly responded.

“We did?”

“Of course we did,” Corey said softly, throwing a warm arm around her back for emphasis. She liked it; needed comforting, attention, and assurances. That these favors were not so hard to gain for her, did not make them any less satisfying.

“Why?” she asked.

“Listen,” Randall leaned into her, crowding, “you’re conscience is growing with your renown man. When the magazine was out on the newsstands, just another in the middle of a lot of magazines, you were less upset.”

“That was before men introduced themselves by staring at my pussy.”

“They always did that. You just didn’t mind at the time because you were not a universally recognized symbol of hip fertility. You’re suffering from a surfeit of attention.”

“Thank you doctor.”

“You wanted it. We all do. Now you got it. You don’t need more conscience now. You need less. The battle has been struck. We must add this simple byte to bum philosophy: that once blood is drawn, you must play to win. If you do and succeed, nobody will care about how you got where you did.”

“Man,” she finished his diatribe for him herself. Yvonne hadn’t seen any blood anywhere and she thought he sounded like a person who spent a lot of time on what other people might be thinking. “I’m glad you’re involved,” she told him.

And Randall was getting quickly acclimated to hearing great things said about him to his face, but she made him shiver with the appreciation. “You know, if we lose, you’ll feel even more vulnerable than you do now.”

Yvonne was not brave of heart in her reactions. Instead she complained a little more about how personal it was getting, and how ugly people you didn’t even know were capable of being…

He let her run the string out and put a period to her long sentence. “What can I tell you?”

It was easy for Randall to say these things for they were sharing the same fame, but not the same treatment. She was being cast as public art, as public tart, and her business, which she’d built in small steps with sharp decisions and love had gone under. He was, suddenly, “a thinker.”

Randall was gaining a certain distinction while Yvonne was being cast out of society, proper and otherwise.

Yvonne had a growing sense that the more she suffered, the stronger The Smokers got.

Randall and Corey were exploiting her situation, but their cool under pressure, their cutting intelligence, and the fact she’d initiated the collaboration prevented her from going over to the dark side where her opinion of them was concerned. They might be sipping from a heady brew only she had made possible, but they were good guys and, one of them, perhaps a lot more than that.

“So what do we do next?” she queried her handlers.

“I’m going to make sure DeConcini hasn’t really jumped ship since the press conference.”

“He did seem a little put off,” Corey observed.

“Not happy,” Yvonne made it a consensus.

“Then (Randall had not really stopped) we press ahead with the public relations campaign and exploit it for maximum gain.”

Despite his chosen vocation, when Randall was around Yvonne his ear became tinny and his selection of words grated against the sentiments holding her in their sway at that given moment.

“What do you mean ‘exploit’?” she jumped him.

“But Lady Jane,” Randall mocked her delicacy, “that’s what we’re doing – exploiting things.”

“Randall and I have been talking,” Corey jumped in, the desire for a cigarette stoking a relentless shaking of his leg beneath the table. “Now that we’ve got you booked onto the merry-go-round we want to raise the price of your appearances.”

“Even though we already agreed on them?”

“Yeah,” Randall said, “we miscalculated. You’re in much more demand than we thought and we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.” She watched him closely; his eyes remained focused on hers, too.

“But I want people to think I’m a nice person, even if you have to peddle me like a whore.”

“People like whores. They don’t love them, but they like them and that’s why you find them everywhere.”

Yvonne was not sure if they meant to flatter her, but further discussion promised more insult than resolution and so she cut the yarn. In any case, the current state of delirium could not detach the boys from their own middle-class values and, though unexpressed, each felt twinges of guilt where their strategy was concerned.

Suckers. They had to remain firm. They were going to need all the money they could get.

There was a lull. Things in the restaurant had died down somewhat. They ordered another bottle of wine. A noisy table of elegant, Spanish-speaking people was whooping it up over in the corner by the picture window. The owner approached The Smokers’ table, arms akimbo, smiling face. “Ayyyyyyyy. Mya faboride Sidewalk eSmokers. I saw you in de newzpapare. You are faymus?” he asked in that way only foreigners can invert affirmative statements.

Randall and Corey tried not to beam. Yvonne looked away, not out of shame, but in conformity with role they’d written for her.

The restaurateur’s heightened sensibility to the mood of his clients warned him off mining the vein any deeper. These newly famous were just like others of a more conventional notoriety in the worlds of stage and screen in that they didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to confront it while they were out to dinner trying to forget themselves for a while.

“So, do jou mind if dese costomers of mines smokes?” An educated man and cultured man, his English barely improved upon the dialect Carlos brewed down at Java Whirl.

Anyway, it was a rhetorical question and a joke, and it was taken as such by The Smokers, who seemed to genuinely enjoy it.

“Not if they don’t mind sharing with us,” Randall said, seeking to push things a bit, try yet another cigarette brand, and impress Yvonne with the extra chutzpah he’d been developing lately.

“I will take care off eeet.” And he scurried away full of nervous energy and glee. He returned before the trio’s conversation could begin again with three Marlboro Lights, which always go down fairly easy with smokers of different brands. A lady in jewels nodded at them and winked. They smiled back with real smiles.

This is one of the great mysteries to (nonscientific) members of the nonsmoking community; the way something designed, in such a sinister way, to be a stimulant has such a soothing affect upon those who indulge it.

The trio felt a little more relaxed about their venture and about themselves. They continued to drink from the recipes of a variety of vintners, rolling hints of black cherry, leather, and melon around on their tongues until the conversation melded into something much more carefree and incidental.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Vedette Surrenders to Malaga

calle Beata, Malaga, Spain. Posted by Picasa
Málaga dark in daylight

evil in your doorway

gold teeth spell

sweet wine sunshine hell

I beg you please let me stay.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Piling On

the scribe didn’t want to get involved with all the politics surrounding the Katrina disaster. The whole darn thing has been so discouraging as people from the highest and lowest walks of life turn the world around them into a free-for-all of violence, looting, and egotism, both metaphorical and literal.

Piling on seemed undignified.

But from Dan Froomkin at “The Washington Post,” we have this article detailing the White House’s counteroffensive in the wake of (w)’s lousy handling of the affair, which led to the unnecessary loss of life by those under his providence:

What really galls the scribe is that we can have an article that details Karl Rove’s plan for muddying up the waters, attacking the administration’s critics, and avoiding even the slightest admission of a mistake.

The report can be understood thusly: The White House plays dirty, they’re going to do it again, and here’s how they will do it.

Worse still, media outlets give voice to those this administration dispatches to do its dirty work of blaming others, spinning a disaster into an non-disaster, and putting the image of the (p)resident above those upon whose behalf he purportedly acts.

The White House issues a plan for the manipulation of public opinion and the press both reports the manipulation, as a matter of course, and aids in the effort.

Not that we’re blaming Froomkin, whom we are glad to have around.

The best piece to date on what has happened is this one found here:,1,6942190.column?track=mostemailedlink

Published in “The L.A. Times,” and written by Michael Hiltzik, the piece is the only one that possesses journalistic memory and places the administration’s response within the context of the entire reign of error over which it has presided; a piece that connects the dots.

Hiltzik gets write down to business in his lede paragraph:

“Nearly five years ago, the Bush administration rode into office bearing its cynicism about government high, like a banner.

“It promoted a massive tax cut as a way of ‘starving the beast’ of federal government. [p]resident Bush traveled the country telling us that we were overdependent on the government for help with healthcare and retirement. To those wondering what resources might see them into old age, he advised, ‘a conservative mix of stocks and bonds’.”

Which is funny only if you’re a conservative with a nice mix of stocks and bonds, and not funny at all if you’re sitting on the roof of what used to be your home waving a sign at helicopters.

Hiltzik points out that in 2001 the administration’s lead guy on such things considered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “an oversized entitlement program” and that, now, the (p)resident whines about the private sector needing “to do its part.”

That means all those companies that enjoy tax breaks in the production of widgets (and oil) and the pursuit of profit should also store up on Meals Ready to Eat and Apache helicopters for rescue efforts, just in case their region is wiped off the map.


The author spends a little time on the arrogance and ignorance of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherthoff ( a real charmer if ever there was one) who dismissed tales of citizen suffering as “rumors and anecdotes” when the truth is most Americans haven’t heard or seen the worst of went down in the collective hell hole New Orleans has become.

Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” piece explains that the administration was slow to react, because some key players, not unlike their boss (but unlike the rest of us), were on vacation and in no position to respond quickly.

the scribe would like to posit that they might have been picnicking in the Oval Room and still not have moved a finger, because as those of us on the left know, “compassionate conservatism” is naught but slick marketing ploy.

Bush reacted slowly because, like rapper Kanye West was censored for suggesting, he doesn’t care about black people (or poor people, or environmentalists, or unionists for that matter).

And here’s a little something on the rapper's censored remarks:

The slow response was just Bush being Bush (league). If an Associated Press accounting of his mother’s visit to the refugee-stuffed Astrodome has any veracity at all, the disdain for those in need is a family trait, like bombing things.

This is what she had to say, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working out well for them.”

She has got to be kidding. But no, she’s not.

But back to Hiltzik before the scribe closes and goes to the bathroom to puke:

“President Bush will surely feel the consequences of his dereliction. Every policy of his administration will be viewed through the prism of the debacle of New Orleans [one can hope]. The pursuit of a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, supported by manipulated intelligence, has sucked billion out of the treasury and removed more than 30 percent of Louisiana and Mississippi’s National Guard members from their homes, so they must watch the disaster unfold from half a world away instead of assisting their own communities. Tax cuts for the wealthy have been financed by budget cuts for disaster preparedness and other crucial programs. Four years of anti-terrorism planning have failed to produce a competent system for mitigating a metropolitan cataclysm – one that, on the ground, is indistinguishable from the efforts of the terrorist attack we’ve supposedly been girding for since 9/11.”

the scribe thanks Hiltzik for his excellent scribery and the “L.A. Times” for having the courage to run it. Thanks to them we know...

...we are on our own.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Account Balance

We’re glad to announce that after seven months highwayscribery has a nice readership and the beginnings of a dialogue with those readers. Our unique brand of liberal/litero mixtification has its fans and, here at the blog, management, editorial, and production have hit a nice stride fueled entirely by fun and all the wonderful and truly amazing feats that can be achieved with this gosh-darned Internet thing.

Slowly but surely, in that weird spider-web-like way The Net works, folks from the most unexpected places have tuned in and dropped out. We enjoy get attenton from some of the country's brightestlights and some of the scribe's most cherished low-life friends. For the scribe himself it’s an amazing thing to be able to let it rip over a keyboard with no hindrance other than the internal editor and to access people, their clubs, their chats, and e-mails.

We have stuck with a regular formula of political rants, poems by the scribe and/or others, an occasional poetry analysis, the odd piece of pure prose, and weekly installations of “The Sidewalk Smokers Club.”

We did not post from “The Sidewalk Smokers Club” this week to take advantage of traffic stemming from a link on “The Elegant Variation” site to our Bret Easton Ellis report ("Rich Man, Regular Man," Aug. 28), by running anew a review of the scribe’s novel, “Vedette”, with an eye to selling a few books (see button to the left). “The Smokers” will return this weekend.

Tonight we’re going to post on the front page, an earlier post to “Thou Shall Not Kill...” (Aug. 24) by Darren who writes very well and “gets it,” as they say in Hollywood, where highwayscribery is concerned:

“Hey scribe.... we didn't have tv for 8 months.... (snow storm knocked the dish off the barn last Jan.) and so finally a couple a weeks back we get an appt. with another company and they hook up a new sat. dish (and I was happy with out TV but my wife likes "Lost" & maybe the Jets can do something this season) so the first night about 10:30 pm or so I figure.. O.K. lets take a look...and I turn on tv to a news show.. with a little Alfred E. Newman guy... doing the news.... and he looks sorta like a cross between George Bush & Ted Koppel... I couldn’t quite place him.... and there is a big 700 behind him... I wasn't sure what show it was but it seemed like the news & then he starts talking about how we should assassinate a foreign leader and I said to myself.. "wow tv has changed alot in 8 months..."


Friday, September 02, 2005

"Vedette or Conversations with the Flamenco Shadows

Vedette, a flamenco heroine for our times
b y t a m a r a k a y e s e l l m a n ~ m a r g i n

VEDETTE, by Stephen Siciliano and released by iUniverse, enters the realm of the epic novel from the vantage point of a young girl in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia in the days preceding World War II and the rise of the Franco regime. Her picaresque, Gitano-inspired adventures (and misadventures) are written against the politically transformative landscapes of both the Andalusian countryside and the city of Seville. Readers witness the growth of a young, independent flamenca who, born with an intrinsic sense of duende, defines revolution through her honesty, haunting charm, charismatic leadership and capacity for pure love.

From the publisher comes this summary of Vedette:

"Born to a Gothic social order, branded a haunter of men's dreams, Vedette is traumatized when her small town in the magical wetlands of southern Spain's Guadalquivir River is overrun by hashish-smoking anarchists promising free love and a life without sadness to those who would follow them. … Entranced by their flamenco music, their philosophy of revenge and the concrete ability to deliver political results, the young woman joins a movement destined to annihilation and becomes its sole survivor, burdened with the task of keeping its memory and project for a better world alive through conversations with their flamenco shadows. … Transcending political viewpoints, Mr. Siciliano opens a new chapter in the understanding of the Spanish Civil War, opting for a literary interpretation that looks beyond right and wrong to more universal lessons only the passage of decades and the healing effects of time can reveal."

The term vedette (pronounced Beh-DET) isn't precisely defined in the story, but a basic dictionary definition gives us a couple of clues.

In military lingo, it's a kind of boat or person used as a sentinel. The word has its roots in the Latin "vigil," to watch, to keep vigil, to see, suggesting the work of a nighwatchman. Vedette in Old French means "watch tower." These are consistent with the character Vedette, for her role is one of vigilant witness to the injustices leveled against the poor underclass, and her life is spent in the lunar consciousness of the flamenco lifestyle; that is, she's up all night and perhaps at her most lucid then, even when drunk on manzanilla.

In more popular usage, a vedette might be thought of as a "Triple Threat"— a woman who can sing, dance and act; a showgirl. In Portuguese, vedete translates into the slang terms "star" and "big shot." This doesn't imply anything but a vocation risen to the level of celebrity.

However, it's in Siciliano's novel, right from the first page, that the term vedette is given its immoral connotations, which (unfairly?) define our heroine (whose real name is Gloriella) from the earliest years of her existence, in that a vedette is a title for a woman of loose morals. This usage first comes in the form of a lascivious chant from her incestuous and groping father, only to be legitimized by her other "father," Padre Olivares.

" 'It's an outrage of a name,' the priest would say. 'Not a name, but a title. A title given, in fact, only to the most immoral of women!' he pointed out to anyone in town who would listen. And there was plenty of them. Of course, he was a priest and the town of Marisalena was so Catholic that it made more gossip than olive oil and cotton."

By this proclamation, Olivares creates his own monster. Vedette's existence is a kind of torture because she possesses his dreams. She ends up being, ironically, both his greatest enemy and his raison d'etre. That is to say, he can't live in serenity while she's alive, but his life has no real purpose without her in it to define him.

My take on Vedette is a not a character with loose morals, however. There is a certain picaresque nature to her early womanhood that reminds me of Moll Flanders right off the bat. And to be sure, her early experiences as a tool for the sexual satisfaction of her father (and other men, eventually) casts her as fallen from grace (not unlike Dafoe's antiheroine). But, like Gabriel García Márquez's "innocent" Erendira, Vedette has her reasons for being that kind of girl.

Erendira soullessly services the men in her world in order to pay off a debt to her Grandmother. It is as if she is asleep or a ghost during her sessions. Her purpose is noble even if her actions aren't. However, Vedette understands early on that she is no puta; her sexuality exists as separate from her spirit. She is far more pragmatic about her role as a haunter of men's dreams; she uses her promiscuity as an art form, a tool for acquiring the most basic elements of survival: food, shelter, friendship. At the end of their stations in life, both women achieve a sense of spiritual purity by escaping the social and religious confinements that have ostracized them.

The difference between these two young women is one of power, however. While Erendira remains subservient to her Grandmother's crass greed throughout the story (and only in the end does she escape it), Vedette is owned by no one and, therefore, does not need to escape herself. Even the man she truly loves, the torero Paula, she refuses to marry, for she knows inherently that the only person she belongs to is herself.

The whole of Spain is popularly known for its Inquisition(s), but what isn't focused upon with equal fervor are its multicultural roots. In Spain's earliest and perhaps most golden times, the communities which comprised its southern region, Andalusia, consisted of several culturally different groups living for a time in harmony: the Moors (Arabs), the Jews, the Gitanos ("gypsies") and the Christian Spaniards.

Geographically speaking, it makes sense. Andalusia connects Spain with Africa via Morocco. The trade routes meant commerce between people from all manner of sensibilities: Christian, Jew, Islamic. The nomadic Gitanos of Spain (who are presumed to have descended from Indian immigrants) shared in shaping the culture of the times as well simply by the fact of their transience between villages and cities as they sold their wares and performed their arts.

When the Catholics began cleansing the region of nonbelievers, it is believed that the different ethnic groups who were oppressed by this forced conversion unified culturally to protect each other. From this melding of cultures, a new expression, flamenco, a fusion of Gypsy song with Andalusian folk music, flared to life in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera (so named for its frontierland between Moorish and Christian realms).

Flamenco figures prominently in the growth of Vedette as a charismatic force. She learns the dance and the cante (singing) from a band of revolutionary Gitanos she befriends after fleeing her monstrous father and the threat of convent life where her other "father," Padre Olivares, can't wait to "convert" her.

Flamenco is not simply a form of music, but a way of thinking. Similar examples in American pop culture might include the emergence of the blues or jazz, as well as the iconography and sensibilities of purist Grateful Dead fans, or "deadheads." It's as much a lifestyle and a mindset as it is a form of art.

The time that author Siciliano chooses to introduce Vedette to flamenco is an interesting one; flamenco was, by the 1930s, an extremely old tradition, so when Vedette takes on the task of dancing to palmas at the cafés cantates in Sevilla for payment in food and wine, she is actually entering the flamenco "scene" after its heyday. And she dances to the rich strumming of flamenco guitar, which only became part of the equation at the turn of the 20th century. Previously, instruments such as violins and tambourines accompanied the dancers, but they were optional and not the defining aspect of flamenco.

The spirit of flamenco has endured primarily as a combination of interactive clapping (palmas), vocalization of the woes of the underclass and a combined meditation in dance, where the upper body moves in graceful, sensual form while the feet pound out distinct, percussive patterns that aren't taught as much as felt.

Vedette was a barefoot flamenco dancer, which sets her apart from the modern interpreters of the dance, who use specially enhanced shoes to accentuate their rhythms. Vedette could only be the truly free person she was by dancing without shoes. Her barefoot lifestyle allowed her to be quick on her feet and closer to the earth she loved. Vedette lived as an authentic and sincere naturalist and pacifist who treasured animals, plants and the life force that fueled all that was good in the world. When she is forced into shoes later in the story as part of her internal exile, it comes as no surprise that she loses touch with her flamenco rhythms, or alegría.

Alegría might be defined as the positive expression of flamenco's duende—a spiritual experience characterized as dark beauty erupting from the core of the soul. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca committed his life to the study of duende and gave the concept its timeless significance. Duende isn't something that can taught or measured in terms of skill; rather, duende is a life force that can only be experienced through the magica of a truly authentic practitioner in the arts.

Vedette is one such artist; in fact, she becomes famous throughout the region for being truly authentic, to the point of being an enchantress, a haunted dancer. Her unflappably positive personality, her natural beauty and her legendary ability to always tell the truth lend Vedette a larger-than-life reputation which she fulfills everywhere she goes while she is a free woman. It is only when she becomes neutered by fascism that the darker aspects of her duende return, such as at the very end, when she writes a final poem honoring her beloved guitarist and friend, the gitano Tomatito.

Las Marismas
One of the places she returns to, time and again, is the marshlands (las marismas) that surround the estuarine Guadalquivir River, or el rio. It's no mistake that someone as enchanted as Vedette baptizes herself in the waters of the nurturing Guadalquivir early in the story. The river is the most abundant source of life in the region, next to las marismas, where water moves in and out from the coast with the pull of the moon. The result is an expansive wetland region of brackish water that transforms into salt-crusted ponds in the summer. Animals and wild vegetation characterize both the river and this fertile delta, metaphorizing the wild fertility and longevity of Vedette's ideas. She frequently returns to the mysterious and everchanging landscape of the tidal flats to hide or to collect her thoughts. It's las marismas that ultimately hold for her the secrets of her duende, embodied by the "flamenco shadows" she consults there during desperate times.

It's this commerce, with both the living and the dead, which comprises the magical realist aspects of Vedette.

Antonia, the Card Reader
Early into Vedette's life, she visits the French Gypsy Antonia of Carmona at the demand of her mother, who wants to learn whether assertions from Vedette's father—that she would haunt and curse every man in her life—were accurate. In the staunchly Catholic community of Marisalena, Vedette's mother makes the journey at considerable risk, explaining that, though the local padres may believe in the cards, the Pope does not. The tarot is read, predictions are made. Vedette learns that she is "from and part of the eternal other side." Her mother leaves the reading convinced her daughter is a witch.

This is the first of three encounters Vedette has with Antonia, and in every case, her predictions are accurate to the tiniest details. In the third visit, it is Antonia who proffers predictions based, not on the cards, but on accurate observations about the coming moral and political reforms within Spain, suggesting the intricate liaisons bridging the institutions of faith and politics at the time. One did not need the mystery of the occult to forsee that future. Its evidence could be found throughout the countryside where Vedette lived.

Fernando Villalon
While traveling the las marismas via Sevilla to Carmona, where she plans a second visit to the card reader Antonia, Vedette gets lost looking for the lights of the city. She comes upon a "lonely rider moving slow," who tells her in a deep voice that "you can rush all you want, but in las marismas you can never move faster than the speed of el rio taking the water to sea!"

Vedette's reaction: the man's words don't make sense and yet they explain everything. That should have been her first clue that this mysterious man might be special.

They travel together for a spell and she learns the man is Fernando Villalon, the "poet of las marismas" and a breeder of bulls. He rode a horse named Clavileño, the namesake of Don Quixote's steed (another tip off that Villalon is extra-ordinary).

Vedette is familiar with his story, having been told all about him by her friend, El Fariz the Moor. She discovers that Villalon, in fact, knows her friend. He gives her points for orienting herself in the marshes and bores her young and impetuous mind with other details about horses, Moorish poets and the salty landscape. Though her lack of attention bothers him, he expresses admiration for her honesty and invites her to visit him on his island in el rio. She mentions how she never sees his eyes under the brim of his hate (a third indicator of something otherworldly at play).

It isn't until Vedette arrives very late at the cortijo of the card reader that she learns from Antonia that Fernando Villalon and his horse have both been dead for some time.

This is not the last we hear or see Villalon. In fact, he and his horse appear several times throughout the course of Vedette's journey, delivering letters from real people, cleaning Vedette up after being raped by one of her captors, informing Vedette when she is desperate for wisdom.
He's a flamenco shadow, just one of many which inhabit the real world of Vedette, Gloriella. As other spirits of the flamenco pass through her life, she comes to converse with them at important moments in the story: the troublemaking Rufian, the sacrificed Pilar from Vedette's early years of rebellion. There is never a question in her mind whether these souls are real; she accepts them as kindred spirits, and they do, in fact, aid in her survival, even if only she can see them.

This is one of the most engaging epic works I've read in a long time, a story which deserves comparison to the great classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude (for the sincerity of its political message and for its marvelous humor) and Don Quixote (for its demands for justice and Vedette's innocent and pure idealism).

I would also compare this novel to another favorite contemporary epic, Texaco, written by French Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. The timeless structure of the storyline (we are treated to the undeniable connection between past, present and future) is captured in Siciliano's ability to render, intimately and honestly, the harsh landscape of oppression reduced to its most personal level in a way that is universally meaningful.

Siciliano's personal love for Andalusia shows through prominently in Vedette. His use of the Spanish language to portray an authentic landscape is easily understood even by readers without fluency in the language. Siciliano builds characters who, through their own voices, reveal the kaleidoscopic cultural history of the region. I've learned more about Andalusia, and Spanish history in general, from this book than I've learned in any history class, as a result.

He incorporates little sketches in his book that add another level of understanding for the reader. The different images cast in tiles (azulejos) throughout the region, for instance, display the multicultural influences on Andalusia. Renderings of revolutionary icons used in flags (of moons and suns) support the underlying oppositions in the story: sun/moon, light/dark, "moral"/"immoral" and the like. And his drawings of lanterns in various villages express the underlying differences of each place and how they are made different by the geography and history of the region. Siciliano writes:"[These farolas] are simple trophies yielded by my, ultimately, very costly travels and hopefully reinforce [my] knowledge and affection for that distant land. Each town, no matter how poor, has its own design, yet they are always variations on the same flowery, wrought-iron theme. Some forays I made simply to collect my 'sample,' have a manzanilla and leave."

Perhaps most impressive to me was the way in which Siciliano drew for his readers the portrait of revolution through the lives and experiences of villagers. There is something of a grassroots nature to Siciliano's worldview, as expressed in his own real-life writings, which support liberal ideas, tolerance and peace. His motley crew in Vedette captures all that defines the formation of a political community at the most personal level. There is the cranky but sympathetic Santí, whose constant blasphemies and dour attitude yet inspire positive change. The noble leader Antonio Arleta, whose message of peace evolves over the years, comes too little and too late to their rescue. The valiant and famous torero, Espla de Paula, becomes a convert to Vedette's ways, not only out of love but of reason, after her federation usurps the village. His daughter, Acracia, aka Eva, comes into her own womanhood not as the French-educated princess she is expected to be, but as a pants-wearing militia leader with her eyes on undermining Catholicism's oppression of women. La Condesa is an aristocrat who comes to love Vedette's ideals even as she despises the lowborn ways of the masses. And El Fariz, the Arab complete with camel, the man who bathes himself in the tradition of the desert peoples by scrubbing down with dirt, is the resident keeper of Moorish history and perhaps the best living example from whom Vedette can acquire the Big Picture. These are all characters rendered completely believable because they are beautiful, yet flawed at once.

Finally, Vedette is a book to read as a way to measure our current global condition. The reflections of tolerance, freedom, feminism, idealism and creativity rendered as a political act may be paraded within the confines of this single moment in Spain's history, but their relevance for all of us is undeniably universal.

I must lament that this book was published using the print-on-demand services of iUniverse. My readers know me as a cheerleader for independent publishing, while being more tenuous about lending support to those who would self-publish their work or make it available only through electronic forms which require special technology for access.

I imagine the reason Siciliano took this route has much to do with the fact that his book may not be "sexy" in the eyes of New York publishing. He doesn't have the literary following of a García Márquez or an Allende, for one thing. He isn't writing around a trendy theme (writers of the diaspora, for instance); if anything, he may be criticized for being a white guy writing a story about a nonwhite girl, which I find one of the more irritating presumptions within the ranks of our contemporary literary community. It may be that the novel is simply too long, and that its accompanying timelines of real world events, pronunciation guide and bibliography might be conveyed as too offputting or demanding to average readers (a New-York-only misconception that I wish would disappear; people do have brains and they do like to use them).

For whatever reasons Siciliano holds for choosing the iUniverse route, I have to say I wish he would have found a "real" publisher, for these three reasons.

He could have used the talents of a real editor. There are far too many copyediting mistakes in this book. Please don't let this fact keep you from reading this book.

Siciliano could have benefited from extra promotion the publishing world could have offered his book. Now, while I know it's true that budgets for book tours and promotion have dwindled to hardly anything, and while I know it's become the domain of the writer to actively promote his book (which Siciliano, to his credit, did; it's how I got a copy of Vedette in the first place), there's still more promotional currency to access through traditional publishers than what iUniverse offers.

Finally, while I think it's a much better climate now than it has been in the past, self-published, print-on-demand books still possess the reputation for being amateurish, self-indulgent and of low quality. Despite the copyediting errors I highlight in my argument above, I have to say that this book is written with the deft hand of a real scribe; the craft within it brings layers of sophisticated texture which rule out any question as to its quality as a work of literature; and if there's anything self-indulgent about Vedette, it lingers in Siciliano's pure love for all things Andalusian. This book is not only a novel, but an artful devotion. It deserves respect.

The good news is this: in May 2005, Vedette was selected as one of thirteen "literary fiction" finalists in ForeWord Magazine's 2004 Book of the Year Awards, which focus on sparking the attention of librarians and booksellers by recognizing the literary achievement of independent publishers and their authors. This is one big leap toward validation and legitimacy that the print-on-demand press needs if it is going to bear itself out of the literary ghetto that the New York-centered publishing world has imposed upon it. With excellent novels like Vedette out there, I'm hopeful that alternative options for writers, like iUniverse, will continue to supply them with the recognition they have earned.

He's a certified blogger, penning the entertaining and thoughtful Highway Scribery beat. He's also a poet, a novelist, and a man of political conviction bold enough to put it out there in a politically conservative time when the voices of liberals and free thinkers are belittled or denigrated.

Siciliano wrote Vedette over the course of four years while living in Andalusia. While living there, he enjoyed reading Camilo José Cela's columns and used to see the famous author hanging around Madrid with his young wife. He describes himself, in the back jacket text for Vedette, as "a 19th century man writing his way through a 21st century nightmare. …haunted by this question: Where will the intelligence and kindess come from that can save us?"

Certainly, he grapples with this question through the depiction of La Vedette, Gloriella as she plays, as Siciliano illustrates in the use of this Whitman line from Song of Myself, "not a march for victors only…I play great marches for conquered and slain persons."