Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waterboarding is Not Surfing

Debating issues long-resolved is not progress.

That’s why the fact intelligent and sensitive people taking up their cudgels against torture does little to warm the heart’s cockles.

Sure, somebody’s got to do it and so we are grateful Evan Wallach tried in Sunday’s “Washington Post,” although the title of his Op-ed, “Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime,” says it all.

In this unfortunate, but necessary, piece the former JAG (military lawyer) writes about how he used to lecture soldiers on their legal obligations where guarded prisoners were concerned. “I’d always conclude by saying, ‘[J]ust remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have other do unto you’.”

He goes on to note that our newspapers and television/radio broadcasters have gotten into the habit of saying waterboarding “simulates” drowning.

Not surprisingly, given the corporate, suck-up posture of current day reporters, that’s not at all true.

At least according to Wallace, who has more of a background in this stuff than the highway scribe.

“To be effective,” he explains, “waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: the struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut...”


“...The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”

The article, which you should read if you want a difficult time sleeping tonight, discusses how variations on the technique were used upon American soldiers and how we, as a country, tried and jailed its practitioners.

So we’ve been here, and thanks to the corrosive and mindless policies of the Bush cabal, we’re back. The focal point this time is w.’s nominee for attorney general of the United States. Named Mukasey, he is a man who can’t bring himself to say that waterboarding is torture largely because that would implicate his future bosses in all kinds of legal trouble and ultimately drop them in jail.

Above is a picture of some waterboarding by U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam. What does it look like to you?

A few weeks ago, “Frontline” covered anew the much-tilled territory of how the United States got into the torture business, smearing its own good name, endangering its own soldiers abroad, and making more vulnerable we denizens of the “homeland” (hate that term).

One sequence involved the all-too-familiar observation that, “after 9-11, we were clearly in uncharted territory.”

Popular and universal as the sentiment may be across the land, it is patently wrong (sayeth the highway scribe).

As Al Gore noted in his scathing critique of the (w) regime, “The Assault on Reason,”

“It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. In spite of the dangers they confronted, they faithfully protected our freedoms. It is up to us to do the same.”

Somebody should tell it to Rudy Giuliani, who according to Richard Cohen’s piece, also in “The Post” and entitled, “Rudy’s Torture Talk,” had this to say at a recent Republican debate: “They talk about sleep deprivation. I mean, on that theory, I’m getting tortured running for president of the United States. That’s plain silly.”

Actually, we’re the ones being tortured by his running for president, but the scribe digresses and prefers to leave the stage, momentarily, to Cohen, who noted that, "[I]n the chest-beating contest that has become the GOP presidential race, neither the efficacy of torture nor the damage it has done to America’s public image is questioned much.”

He observed that along with Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have no problem with the extra-territorial gulag maintained by taxpayer funds at Guatánamo Bay, Cuba and, diverging even from the Bush administration, would like to see it stay open.

Writes Cohen, “John McCain, who is understandably appalled by the casual advocacy of torture, noted that Giuliani and the others in the GOP field come by their faux toughness without benefit of military service. This is a fair point, because as both McCain and Colin Powell have noted, all a POW has going for him is the hope of reciprocity. If we don’t torture, maybe the won’t either.

“This means nothing to Giuliani. He rebutted McCain with one of his signature your-mother-wears-a-mustache responses. McCain, he said, has ‘never run a city, never run a state, never run a government’.”

Of course it could be argued neither has Giuliani. If his plunging into the toxic dust of ground zero had not contrasted so starkly with the absent commander in chief on that fateful day, Rudy would have left office some months later as the worst and least-liked mayor in New York history.

But we already know what Osama Bin-Laden did for repressive republicans and over-the-top law and order types all over the country.

You may have noticed the highway scribe is posting with less regularity on this blog. That’s because it is a time-hog and because with the current president’s term shrinking to a very finite quantity of time, the necessity of railing against him has diminished in-kind.

But this gentlemen Giuliani (the scribe uses the term loosely and out of courtesy) is bad news and he is coming down the pike, folks.

All the signs are there, the credible warnings of journalists like Cohen, the discouraging adherence of apolitical and uninformed voters to Giuliani’s 9/11 demagoguery, and his own conscienceless cynicism, make it seem like 2000, when they were pushing the son of a recent president as some kind of newfangled, outsider “reformer.”

He is bad news, this former unpopular mayor inflating bogeymen and his strategy is working, what with Christiano-fascists like Pat Robertson getting behind him because “national security” trumps all, even that quadrennial red-herring...THE RIGHT TO LIFE.

With all their failures and ineptitude, Republicans can win on this issue if voters don’t take the highway scribe’s words to heart: Islamo-fascists are not going to take over the country nor end your “way of life.” There are ways of dealing with the dissociated and far-flung nutboxes, but your leaders are not interested in employing them. This generation of fundamentalist hordes may hate you and may blow up a disco now and again, but your chances of being killed by a terrorist are less, by far, than dying in a car crash. Your national security is more threatened from within by right-wing elements, long dominant, who don’t give a twig for democracy or your rights, than from without. The devaluation of both over the years and your own shrugging away of their importance are the proof in the pudding.

Giuliani and his politics of fear are only the latest re-generation of the same old product: fear.

He offers nothing but repression, glib irresponsibility as some “new” kind of approach to politics, and a back story of meanness and self-love.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The War Party and Party Party

Ich bin ein Berliner!” it was not.

Of course Europeans aren’t listening to Geo. w. Bsh., any more than those of us in this country. And like everyone else, they are just hoping he will quietly retire before blowing up the entire planet.

Thanks to w., the folks at
Washington PostGlobal are debating whether we are on the verge of World War III.

Never much attuned to the Old Continent, Bush makes a habit of astounding Europeans with his proud ignorance of their ways, customs, and generally held beliefs.

There was a time (somewhere about 1960) when an American president carried messages of hope, freedom and liberty during visits abroad.

Now we have one that talks about them through a prism of death and destruction, which doesn’t sound the same.

James Gerstenag of the “Los Angeles Times” just did a piece entitled,“
Bush backs missile defense” in which w. said from Washington that he backs missile defense...for Europe.

Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” delves into some of Bush’s inaccuracies. Especially the claim that MISSILE DEFENSE ACTUALLY WORKS.

But the administration has never been bothered with such niceties as research and evidence.

More importantly, Bsh. sayeth, Europe would be vulnerable to attack from Iran, which, of course, is allied with a number of those same supposedly vulnerable states.

“The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it’s urgent,” Bush said in a speech to National Defense University, whatever the hell that is.

Also urgent is the need for more money to finance the Iraq boondoggle. the scribe doesn’t remember when it was Bush squeezed the American people for an earlier $147.5 billion, but it doesn’t seem long ago. And that was just a fraction of the true cost of war as demonstrated by our favorite cost-of-war ticker, compliments of the National Priorities Project.

We are told any opposition to this expense, a small portion of which would have helped end the California firestorm, will be a Betraeus, er um, Petrayal of our troops.

Said the president: “I know some in Congress are against the war. But they ought to make sure our troops have what it takes to succeed.”

Here we go again. Sign sealed delivered it’s his, because in spite of the cliff he’s leading the Republican Party over, GOPers have no problem, ideologically, with backing Bsh., on children’s health care or the war, for which they are THE OFFICIAL PARTY.

The War Party.

That’s right Americans, Europeans, Antarticans, when w. goes there will be a prick to take his place.

Right now that is looking like Rudy Giuliani who thinks that a new war with Iran is a great idea, much as the administration does.

If you want to read some of their reasons, you can click on an earlier edition of “White House Briefing” or TiVo yourself back to those heady days prior to the Iraq invasion, because they are, brazenly, the same pack of lies.

In “Giuliani’s War”
Richard Cohen of the “Washington Post” discusses one of Rudy G.’s characteristic moments when he told a New Yorker who disagreed with his plan to make ferrets illegal as pets that, “There is something deranged about you.”

Ann Coulter’s got to be thrilled.

Cohen, who has the patience to actually sit through the Republican presidential debates, says Giuliani is “treating Iran as a nation of ferret owners” [that’s good] by threatening to strike that country militarily if it develops nuclear weapons.

It was Giuliani said, “not a threat, but a promise,” according to Cohen who added that, “The other Republican candidates do not, for the most part, disagree.”

Of course they don’t.

Which brings up a problem highwayscribery first identified in
“Giuliani and the Politics of Defeat,” as response to a comment by Hizzoner who claimed we can never go back to life the way it was before 9/11.

The GOP always points to the peacenik strain laced through the Democratic Party as something defeatist. Only those who want to send boys and girls over as IED fodder are lovers of America.

But as the scribe noted in that post, “So who is defeatist? Don’t tell the highway scribe he will be removing his shoes before boarding planes the rest of his life...Fix the problem.” etc.

War, war and war. That’s what they have to offer and highwayscribery hopes you’re in the weapons dealing business because otherwise your just another citizen whose lost their civil rights in a declining country.

Meanwhile, John McCain seems to have revived his presidential prospects with a commercial mocking Hillary Clinton’s support of a Woodstock Museum in New York.

McCain said at a recent debate that he was “sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event” and then used the recording of his big laugh-line in the commercial as voice over to images from that great day in American history. “I was tied up at the time.”

Oh well good for you. As the scribe sees it those dancing people were upset you and others were over there killing and being killed; they were leading by example, showing how life should be lived with joy and in community rather than under the perpetual rain cloud the Republicans promise.

You have to love the Republican way. Your chances of getting into the true club (not the one that merely votes for it) are pretty slim, but they’ll mock you for being an outsider every chance they get.

With all the squalor and misery, with the perpetual fear, the environmental degradation and enmity between peoples all over the world, they have maintained throughout the years a smug smirk reserved for those who would dance and preach peace.

For the Party Party.

It’s worth noting the Woodstock museum funding Clinton voted for was $1 million.

Last time the scribe looked, the Iraq war, which McCain is dead set against ending, had cost $463 billion, but that was half an hour ago.

And now a little something about Woodstock...

the highway scribe did not make it to the actual festival, although even at the age of 10 its tremors shook him from a distance.

A year later, his mom took the scribe, his sister Rosemary, and baby brother Bradley, up to Woodstock. It was near the place where they made Corning Wear, which mothers cooked their casseroles in back then.

The town was overrun by long-hairs whom, as has been the case across urban American in ensuing years, had done much to improve it with color, creativity, art, and vibrance. the scribe bought a patch for his jeans that said “LSD” designed in the same graphic style as the STP Oil label, which seems to have disappeared from the commercial scene.

At one point in our incense-inspired walk through the leafy burg, we stopped to watch a stream flow under a small wooden bridge. We were approached by a young man with a beard that made him appear less young to us. Our mother was elsewhere, but this was in a time before amber alerts.

UnAmerican, he talked nothing about himself, but patiently asked questions of us and recorded the answers in a notebook. He assured us that we were very interesting and that he should know, because that is what he was dedicated to doing: listening to people and recording their stories. He left with a smile shortly thereafter. We were never abducted or molested.

the highway scribe made a career out of his shining example.

Years later, the scribe and friends used to go to a nearby independent theater to see the Woodstock movie, which you may not know, was edited by Martin Scorcese. The music, of course, is astounding, but what used to excite the crowd most were the words of an old-timer on a porch who spoke to the film makers.

The exact words escape now, but to paraphrase he said that people of the rural farm town did not quite know what to think when all these scruffy items waltzed in singing, dancing and drinking, but that as the days wore on, it seemed to him their behavior was unimpeachable, that their example was one that might serve the whole world, that they’d be welcome back any time they saw fit to return, which he hoped would be soon, and that he himself would never forget how wonderful they were.

In today’s world, that’s worth $1 million and a museum.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Smokers" Smokes

the highway scribe awoke this morning to learn "The Sidewalk Smokers Club" received an honorable mention from the DIY (Do It Yourself) Book Festival/Los Angeles edition. DIY is one in a handful of outfits helping sort out the quality from the slop in the print-on-demand/self-publishing universe. You pony-up anywhere from $50 to $100 bucks and as many as five copies of your own book and see what happens. It is a first run for "The Smokers" and the relative success basically means the scribe must now spend a few hundred more dollars on similar contests. That's fine. the scribe has scrolled down through lists of winners and honorably mentioneds before, heart contracting as his title failed to pop up. It's a grim and lonely moment. Here's the list for DIY. If you scroll down to the "Fiction" category, you will see that "The Sidewalk Smokers Club" is right beneath the winner. The litany's not being alphabetized is a fairly good sign the book came in second. highwayscribery titles have been at the end of such lists and, in those instances, there was no denying what it meant... so please, raise a glass to the scribe, or the muse, or to "The Smokers" themselves.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Folks in the mainstream media have come around to Al Gore.


On George Stephanopolous’ ABC Sunday show, Cokie Roberts, for example, was simply effusive in conceding, “Good for Al Gore. He deserved this.”

Cokie like Stephanopolous, who referred to Gore as a “political carnivore” after his second debate against the Texan during the 2000 campaign, was never truly on board.

highwayscribery, a force to be reckoned with throughout the information constellation, has decided to prolong the news cycle dedicated to Gore’s triumph by doing another post a few days after the fact of his winning the Nobel Prize.

First, we’d like to point out how much we like Gore and how often we’ve trumpeted him when it went against the grain of American opinion to do so.

We’ve covered some of the controversial speeches he made as an early critic of the administration when that was not popular. We thought we sensed something of a surprising “Gore Zeitgeist,” in April 2006, and were tuned-in like nervous teens when he won an Academy Award, waiving off all the inconsequential categories like “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” so they could get to the all-important “Best Documentary” category.

So, we told you so before the rest of them did, which should make all 27 of you feel like you’re onto something hot and inside-y with your dark highwayscribery habit.

Aside from the early morning Associated Press report leading the charge last Friday morning, Gore got some kindness from the “New York Times,” and writer Jim Rutenberg, who noted that for Gore, “winning the Nobel Peace Prize today is the latest twist in a remarkable decade of soaring highs and painful lows.”

To Rutenberg’s credit he highlights Gore’s politics over his “pop culture” triumphs as those who deign to damn him with faint praise refer to his Oscar, his Emmy, his Webby, and his successful stab at becoming the world’s biggest rock promoter on the first go-round.

Long before these things began to congeal into the Gore Zeitgeist, Gutenberg says Prince Albert of the Tennessee Valley, “was growing in stature for another reason: his early opposition to the war.”

We’re not sure that’s the case. In fact we’re not sure that being anti-war in the United States ever gets anywhere with the big outlets. As the Brits say: “It’s just not done,” but Rutenberg’s point demonstrates the retroactive nature of success and validation.

In short, once you’ve had success, you’re whole backstory gets a boost. Former flubs become painful but necessary detours on a destiny marked for distinction.

More from Rutenberg on the Gore and the war: “He had initially voiced it [his opposition] in 2002 in an address that his newly galvanized supporters now describe as uncannily prescient and unfairly dismissed, though it was seen as a politically off-kilter at a time of great popularity for [p]resident Geo. [w.] Bsh.”

Even second tier operations like the “San Diego Union-Tribune” got into the act.

The “U-T” as it is known locally and colloquially, usually contracts out its opinion section to the syndicated gang, but the Copley crew let a staff writer named Peter Rowe air it out about a reliable whipping boy to rather pleasurable effect.

“Maybe he really did invent the Internet,” Rowe wrote.

“Al Gore’s résumé includes just about every other distinction: an Emmy, and Oscar and now a Nobel Peace Prize. His impressive run has been unmatched by anyone in our culture. (Other than Oprah, of course). Just seven years ago, though, Gore was considered a schlub.”

Rowe goes onto survey the accolades accorded the former veep across the culture and across the political spectrum. Save, of course, what he refers to as “the Limbaugh-Hannity-Coulter Axis of Conservative Commentary.”

Not that these folks haven’t been a boon to the conservative movement, but at this late hour the brand has to be getting tarnished with the association. Their inability to even see an American in someone wafting a whiff of progressivism has all but polished that little nub of imagined credibility into the flat marble surface of their imagined reality.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had the decency to release an officious statement reading: “Congratulations to Al Gore for receiving this great honor, recognizing his important work on climate change. Climate change is a global crisis that transcends politics and party affiliation and that's why there are leaders from across the spectrum calling attention to this critical issue.”

But generally, when you lack grace at lower levels, it’s because you lack it at the very top and rather than the typical congratulatory note proudly reserved for citizens that ennoble their country with an achievement such as the Nobel, White House mouthpiece Tony Fratto came up with an extemporaneous, “Of course we’re happy for Vice President Gore and the IPCC for receiving this recognition.”

Then how come you had to be asked? the highway scribe was so happy he called his mom to ask what she thought, but she beat him to the punch because she was so happy, too.

Paul Krugman of the “New York Times” took at stab the burning question, What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Gore's message is deeply threatening to a party living in the stone age, Krugman suggests.

“Today,” he wrote, “being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them."

But Gore’s belief in diplomacy before war and the reigning in of our mutual lifestyles to something more dignified than pigs at the trough is only the beginning.

The biggest reason the right wing hate him so is that, “the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.”

Music, sweet music.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Three More

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Oxnard SoldierGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Cpl. Gilberto A. Meza, of Oxnard, CA:

"Corporal Gilberto Meza's allegiance to freedom and his dedication to protecting the ideals of our country warrant the highest appreciation of all Californians. Maria and I want to express our sincere condolences to Gilberto's family and friends as they endure the terrible loss of this courageous soldier. We will continue to pray for them."

Meza, 21, died Oct. 6 as a result of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit in Baghdad, Iraq. Meza was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, United States Army, Vilseck, Germany.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Hayward Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Avealalo Milo, of Hayward, CA:

"In valiant service to our country and his fellow Americans, Specialist Avealalo Milo made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our nation abroad. Maria and I express our deepest sympathies to Avealalo's family and loved ones. His loyalty and courage will forever be cherished by all who knew him."

Milo, 23, died Oct. 4 as a result of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire in Baghdad, Iraq. Milo was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, United States Army, Vilseck, Germany.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Camp Pendleton Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Jeremy W. Burris, of Tacoma, WA:

"My heart goes out to Lance Corporal Jeremy Burris' family, friends and community at this very difficult time. Jeremy's bravery and commitment to our country is an inspiration to all Americans and we honor him for this ultimate sacrifice. Maria and I hold the Burris family in our thoughts and prayers."

Burris, 22, died Oct. 8 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. Burris was assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, United States Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, CA.

In honor of Lance Cpl. Burris, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Report: "40 Years With The Blues Legends" By Deacon Jones

the highway scribe would like to gather up his red Fender Starcaster and his 22 watt amplifier and go over to Deacon Jones’ place for a jam.

That way he would be associated with Jones, and all the legends Jones has jammed with and recounted in his charming autobiography,"The Blues Man: 40 Years with the Blues Legends."

That way the highway scribe could tell his grandchildren he’d jammed with a guy who’d jammed with all those famous guys.

Which would be an improvement on the scribe’s current career trajectory.

But seriously, Jones’ story is a lot like the blues itself. It's sad, but it sounds good so that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I guess the only reason that I haven’t given in is because I don’t know how to quit. I’m sort of like a Timex watch; I take a licking, but I keep on ticking. I just hope and pray that one day the sun will shine on Deacon Jones and I’ll finally get lucky and hit it big. It seems that every time I’m near the top, something goes wrong and I fall down again.”

Here’s a gentleman who has played with Baby Huey and The Babysitters, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Elvin Bishop, Buddy Miles, Greg Allman, Willie Dixon, Carlos Santana and a veritable who’s who? of sixties/seventies music stars.

It’s a classic story about the music industry.

Says Deacon (with the help of an able M. Jonathan Hayes):

“In 1965, we finally settled into a regular gig at the Thumbs Up on the North Side. They started us off at one night a week, $5 each, and all we could drink. And everyone wants to know why I got to be an alcoholic.”

Keeping in mind that Melvyn’s story (that’s his real name) winds through the early ’60s and is still unspooling, drugs and booze are a part of things, given the predilections of his lively and special generation.

Here’s an accounting of an all-star jam with Buddy Miles, Noel Redding [Hendrix’ bassman] Eric Clapton, and Deacon’s boss at the time, Freddie King.

“The music and the vibes were just blowing everyone away. Eric was a monster on guitar but he was pretty blitzed. During the performance, he came over and sat down on the organ bench next to me on my right side. It was pretty cool except that he started leaning into me while I was trying to play, bumping into my right arm during my solos. I was whispering to him out of the side of his mouth. “ Eric, Eric, I can’t play.”

“Oh, sorry mate, sorry,” he would gurgle and sit up straight for a moment. It was hilarious. Soon he was tilting to the side gain, leaning into me."

That was the joy, but in the crazy world of endless travel, shoestring budgets, and reckless lifestyles, there was much sadness for Deacon, too.

Jones, who was born in Richmond, Indiana while the gale winds of World War II were blowing full force, headed north to Chicago at a tender age with a very large fellow from the neighborhood named Jimmy Ramey, who took the show name of Baby Huey and sang for “The Babysitters” of which Deacon formed a part.

Maybe you have to be a music junkie to enjoy Jones’ stories about how this guy did not like to practice, or that guy couldn’t remember the lyrics, or couldn’t play lest he was stoned out of his mind or had some fried chicken first, but the book contains lots of personal peculiarities of people elevated by stardom who are really, just people.

Freddie King, for example, was a great lead guitarist, but couldn’t “chord” very well, which is a way of saying he loved the spotlight, but wasn’t crazy about driving the band with a little mundane dirty work.

Ramey, who only knew two numbers when the joint venture began (“Peanut Butter” and “Wiggle Wobble”), “was kind of lazy when it came to learning new songs. I told him he had to know more songs if he was going to make it with any band. We learned, ‘Go, Gorilla, Go’, by the Ideals, and some Four Tops, James Brown, Stevie Wonder songs. The number one song we learned that always got the crowd going was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight, Everything is Alright’ .”

highwayscribery includes the anecdote because it shows the book for what it is: a recounting from the stage and from the rehearsal room by a craftsman in pop and blues, rather than a conceptual rambling about the black roots of music, slave canticles and what have you.

Deacon went on stage and played songs. That was and is his life and through him the reader learns the nuts and bolts of performing at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre and how perilous it could be when the organ player printed up a few shirts to make an extra buck selling them outside the show.

Ramey liked his drugs apparently, though Jones never specifies. He recounts how he’s was having cereal for breakfast one morning at Baby Huey’s place when his “drug kit” fell out of the Wheaties box when Deacon turned it over to fill his bowl.

“All of a sudden there was a loud demanding knock at the door. A big voice yelled, ‘ Chicago Police - open the door - now.’ Ramey calmly dropped his kit back into the box and the wax paper on top of it. Someone opened the door and in comes all these burly task force narcotics officers with bullet proof vests, holding semi-automatic guns and big pistols. One of them barked, ‘ Freeze. Don’t noboby move!’

“Ramey looked up and said nonchalantly, ‘ Can I finish my breakfast?’

“ A cop said, ‘ Yeah smart ass. Go ahead’.”

“The man” looked everywhere in that place, except the Wheaties box.

But Ramey could not escape himself and died of an overdose just when Curtis Mayfield was about to make him a star.

A lot of tragedy. Dennis Moore, drummer for The Babysitters dropped out of school so he could go to Paris with the band. There they were a smash with the crowde and press, but had failed to get a contract and came home empty-handed.

For Moore, it was worse. The Viet Nam War was happening and leaving school cost him his draft exempt status. He served, but came back and found he could not play anymore and killed himself.

“A drummer is the only musician who can’t put his instrument away for a couple of years an come back. Everyone else can quit and come back and continue where he left off but the drummer.”

And there’s lots more where that came from. Deacon got his job with the Impressions when the backing band was killed in a car accident rushing to a gig, weighted down with musical equipment.

Jones was hitched well to Freddie King’s rising star, although there were always the attendant ambiguities of the artistic life.

They opened for Grand Funk Railroad at the height of that band’s popularity, which, for those of you who don’t remember, was considerable. The ticket played Madison Square Garden and rocked the house, according to Deacon who made $35 for the night.

“It didn’t matter that it was a huge show before a zillion people with news reporters, celebrities, flashbulbs clicking the whole night, interviewers in our dressing room after the show, pictures in the papers the next day. The fans didn’t know that I didn’t have a nickel to my name. They didn’t know that I lived hand to mouth at home and on the road. I probably slept on a box spring that night. I was an organ sideman with nothing living the glamorous life on the road with a superstar.”

But even that came to an end. Again, with superstardom within a finger’s length, King died at the age of 41, leaving Jones to start all over again.

And start he did, introducing himself to the legendary John Lee Hooker and asking to sit in for one night that turned into many.

Again, Jones was close, but left without that fat cigar. He has some complaints about these big boys, their broken promises, the waiting until the next big break that never came, but that’s the arts. Deacon takes his space to gripe, but it is only a way of completing a picture mostly filled with the privilege of having talent and shared it with others in similar possession.

Hayes lets Jones tell it his way and Jones tells it well, in an authentic voice, carrying many a keen observation.

It’s not all music because when you’ve lived through such times and such people, you’ve been a part of history, too. A historical event is something that encompasses everybody, not just the direct protagonists.

For instance, while students and radicals were demonstrating at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley declared martial law.

“I was driving my station wagon one night, back to the house where we were all living near Hyde Park. I pulled up to a stoplight and heard chinka chinka chinka right next tome and I thought, what the hell is that? I looked over and a Sherman tank had pulled up along side of me - on Garfield Boulevard. A soldier’s head was sticking out of the little hole on the top of the tank and he was looking over at me. He pointed to his watch and I yelled out, ‘I know, I got 10 minutes.’

“He said, ‘You got far to go?’

“I said, ‘Just two minutes and I’ll be home.’

“He said, ‘You better hurry,’ and hurry I did.”

Deacon Jones is a black man and the story is laced with occurrences that could happen to a black man, without the organmeister necessarily pointing it out. In just one anecdote does he air his despair.

It involves a car trip from Los Angeles to South Carolina with a quarter pound of weed stashed somewhere in the vehicle and a New Mexico State patrolman. Without probably cause, but highly suspicious, the officer is unable to break the cool musicians’ united front.

Sending Jones back to the car, the cop begins to work over drummer Jeff Miller, a white guy, trying to “divide and conquer,” offering to let him go and arrest the black guys if he’d share the secret about where the drugs were.

“[A]ny time you’re looking at a police officer who has an American flag on his collar and handcuffs for a tie tac, he’s not going to take a bag of weed over there and dump it out. And by trying to divide us racially, you could tell he was a racist. He didn’t like two white guys and two black guys traveling together...

...He was the nightmare of America."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Blackwater U.S.A. : A Literary Analysis

"In the morning the rain had stopped and they appeared in the streets, tattered, stinking, ornamented with human parts like cannibals. They carried huge pistols stuck in their belts and the vile skins they wore were deeply stained with blood and smoke and gunblack."

Cormac McCarthy, “Blood Meridian”

Maureen Dowd, back in public after some 18 months of sequestering under the “New York Times” attempt to charge extra for internauts who enjoy their best opinionators (Frank Rich, Bob Hebert, Paul Krugman etc.) took a stab at the Blackwater U.S.A. scandal a day or so ago.

Adept at skewering politicians Democratic and Republican alike, Dowd founders in conjuring the evil behind this particular brainchild of the shrinking w. regime.

She quotes Nietzsche saying something about the abyss staring back at those who stare at the abyss, but is limited to anecdotes about that crazy Blackwater crew filtered by news agencies and Iraqi-English translators; dulled by our own dimmed wits that have been subject to similar fare for nigh on five years.

She talks "abyss" but does not conjure the abyss, so the highway scribe wanted to turn to literature where accuracy is not so important as legend, volume, word of mouth and, yes, art, which we know can never imitate life.

“Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West” was written by Cormac McCarthy. the scribe read it about ten years ago, with his jaw-dropped, in about 12 hours time, horrified by the verismo accounting of how the West was truly subdued and entranced by the author’s overwrought, overwritten, and too numerous pastoral sequences.

Unable to get the stark renderings of Western moonscape and wretched accounts of senseless massacre out of his mind, the scribe recently went out and purchased the novel for a re-reading that has been no less satisfying the second time around.

“Blood Meridian” ostensibly follows the wanderings of a 14-year-old piece of Tennessee trash referred to only as "the kid," but is really concerned with a cabal he falls in with: Joe Glanton, The Judge, and an ensemble of often and easily replaced mercenaries working on behalf of certain Mexican municipalities seeking protection from the Comanche, Apache, and other “aborigines.”

McCarthy, as a novelist, can go where the journalist Dowd cannot and when he does, leaves our hair standing on end. The first reading through, the many massacres of Indians in the book filled-in a large blank in the scribe’s understanding of American history.

To wit: You gotta kill a lotta injuns to vacate a continent of them and “Blood Meridian,” written by a respectable North American pensman, provides a very plausible rendering of how that was achieved.

highwayscribery’s suggestion here is that strong parallels exist between the Glanton Gang and those who have been so arrogant of the law and human decency in Iraq as to garner headlines in the likes of the “Washington Post.”

Even though we’re not winning the war at many levels, we have the arms to wage it and to do so with open-ended staying power. Only domestic politics might stop the war. Guns we will not run out of and early in “Blood Meridian” Glanton is sampling a special pistol offered up by a man named Thayer.

“When all the chambers were loaded he capped them and looked about. In that courtyard other than merchants and buyers were a number of living things. The first that Glanton drew sight upon was a cat that at that precise moment appeared upon the high wall from the other side as silently as a bird alighting. It turned to pick its way among the cusps of broken glass set upright in the mud masonry. Glanton leveled the huge pistol in one hand and thumbed back the hammer. The explosion in that dead silence was enormous. The cat simply disappeared. There was no blood or cry, it just vanished.”

Properly equipped, the gang depart from Chihuahua City with a contract that will pay them one hundred dollars per Indian scalp. That’s a lot of money in 1849 so that while stopping in an “ancient walled presidio” Glanton puts the same gun to an innocent old woman’s head and kills her, ordering the Mexican in his crew, McGill, to collect the “receipt.”

“He took a skinning knife from his belt and stepped to where the old woman lay and took up her hair and twisted it about his wrist and passed the blade of the knife about her skull and ripped away the scalp.”

Just practicing. Later they approach a thousand Gileño Indians camped along the shoreline of a shallow lake. Coming upon an old man at the outset of the early morning ambush they club him to death, stampede the village and kill a few overmatched warriors with bows and arrows.

“When Glanton and his chiefs swung back through the village people were running out under horses’ hooves and the horses were plunging and some of the men were moving on foot among the huts with torches and dragging victims out, slathered and dripping with blood, hacking at the dying and decapitating those who knelt for mercy. There were in the camp a number of Mexican slaves and these ran forth calling out in Spanish and were brained or shot and one of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a bloody spew...”

When Yahoo news tells you American forces have killed 70 “insurgents” or “terrorists,” remember that the Indians were the terrorists and insurgents of those times and that the lexicon of war permits the indiscriminate taking of lives, be they of women, children, the old, or young.

As The Judge lectures the men before a campfire: “Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn.”

The harvest complete the band return to Chihuahua City where they are roundly remunerated and fêted, but overstay their welcome, raping the town’s young girls, elevating the status of whores, emptying pantry and kitchen, first with money and then with the threat of guns, until finally a desperate citizen scribbles on a wall, Mejor los Indios.

We’re better off with the Indians.

Having stripped the town of all worth, they depart and quickly slaughter a “peaceful band of Tiguas” before riding into the Mexican town of Nacori where a cantina spat spurs them to kill twenty-eight Mexican men whose scalps they also collect - scalps, “of the people they were paid to protect,” the author observes.

McCarthy has a kind of reverse literary triumph here. It is very rare you don’t root for the people you’re following in a story. A murderer escapes from jail and flees through a swamp and you find yourself pulling for him to evade the hounds and coppers.

In “Blood Meridian” you ask, Can’t the authorities do anything to stop these monsters?


In fact, one of the more poignant sequences occurs shortly thereafter when the mercenaries decimate a corps of mounted Mexican cavalry:

“They wore tall shakos faced with metal plates and horsehair plumes and they wore green coats trimmed with scarlet and scarlet sashes and they were armed with lances and muskets and their mounts were nicely caparisoned and they entered the street sidling and prancing, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men. The company looked to Glanton. He holstered the pistol and drew his rifle. The captain of the lancers had raised sabre to halt the column. The next instant the narrow street was filled with riflesmoke and a dozen of the soldiers lay dead or dying on the ground. The horses reared and screamed and fell back upon each other and men were unhorsed and rose up struggling to hold their mounts. A second fire tore through their ranks. They fell away in confusion.”

This is what you get with mercenaries and one must wonder how many good Iraqis hoping to help their country in the police or the nascent army have died the same way as the young lancers.

A third of “Blood Meridian” takes place at the Colorado River near Yuma and across the region spreading west to San Diego, where Glanton and Co., abduct the mayor, his wife, and the grocer good enough to trade their stolen gold for dry goods, “to an abandoned hut at the edge of the ocean eight miles south of the settlement,” tie them up and leave them for dead.

Ironically, Blackwater U.S.A. wants to open an 824-acre training facility in the same region, in east San Diego County. So angry are the residents of Potrero - which sounds like something out of the novel - at the planning commission that green lighted the scheme, that they voted to set a recall election for the whole slew of them.

And it’s not looking good for the currently seated officials.

So maybe, hopefully, Dowd is right when she writes, “Americans have been anti-mercenary since the British sent 30,000 German Hessians after George Washington in the Revolutionary War.”

the highway scribe has never been to war, but he did waste a lot of time trying to sell screenplays in Hollywood, which is similar, what with the immorality and whores and betrayal typical of the Glanton clan, but without the blood (for the most part).

There was forewarning in this screenwriter’s quest and the plan as drawn up was to make a stake and get the hell out.

But there is no “out” for mercenaries of the kind detailed by McCarthy. No matter how much money they steal or gold teeth they pull from the jaws of weaker souls, they never choose to leave for greener pastures; never settle down on that ranch with the little woman to propagate more mercenaries.

That’s because the money’s nice, but the thing they like is the killing. And so mercenaries hang on until they’re murdered and cremated by vengeful Yumas... or left hanging from a bridge in Falloujah.

And therein may lie one reason you don’t see the U.S. making its way for the door in Iraq. The people running the show wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.

Mejor los Indios.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Five More

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Los Angeles Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III, of Los Angeles, CA:

"Sergeant Robert Ayres will be remembered as an example of valor and commitment to duty. Maria and I mourn the loss of this courageous soldier and we send our prayers to his family and loved ones. Robert's sacrifice is a somber reminder of the dangers inherent in protecting our country."

Ayres, 23, died Sept. 29 as a result of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire in Baghdad, Iraq. Ayres was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, United States Army, Vilseck, Germany.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Cameron Park Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor, of Cameron Park, CA:

"Private First Class Mathew Taylor proudly stood beside his fellow soldiers defending our country overseas. He embodies the incredible spirit of commitment and courage displayed every day by the members of our armed forces. Maria and I send our heartfelt sympathies and prayers to Mathew's family, friends and loved ones."

Taylor , 21, died Sept. 26 in San Antonio of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle July 23 in Sarobi District , Afghanistan . Taylor was assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, United States Army, Vicenza , Italy .

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of San Diego Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Cpl. Anthony K. Bento, of San Diego , CA :

"Answering the highest call of duty, Corporal Anthony Bento gave his life fighting for freedom. The allegiance and fidelity of Anthony's service warrants the highest appreciation of all Californians. Maria and I wish to send our sympathies to his family, friends and fellow soldiers as they mourn his loss."

Bento, 23, died Sept. 24 as a result of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire in Bayji , Iraq . Bento was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, United States Army, Fort Bragg , NC .

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Novato Soldier

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Nicholas P. Olson, of Novato, CA:

"Maria and I extend our profound sympathy to the family and friends of Specialist Nicholas Olson, who gave his life with honor to protect our nation and our values. Nicholas' bravery and sacrifice will always be remembered. We will pray for the comfort of his family during this painful time."

Olson, 22, died Sept. 18 as a result of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations in Muqdadiyah, Iraq. Olson was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), United States Army, Fort Lewis, WA.

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

Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Redding Marine

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Cpl. Travis M. Woods, of Redding, CA:

"Maria and I join all Californians in mourning the tremendous loss of Corporal Travis Woods. A brave and committed Marine, Travis will be forever honored for his willingness to answer the call of duty as a member of our armed forces. We send our prayers and sincere condolences to his family, fellow Marines and the community of Redding during this difficult time."

Woods, 21, died Sept. 9 as a result of wounds suffered while conducting combat operations in Northern Helmand province, Afghanistan. Woods was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, United States Marine Corps, Camp Pendleton, CA.

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

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tlatelcolco 39 Years Later

In Mexico today, they (or some) are commemorating the 39th anniversary of the government's wholesale slaughter of protesting students in Tlatelcolco.

A couple of months ago, Aug. 4 to be precise, highwayscribery broached this topic through a book report on Paco Ignacio Taibo II's "1968."

Elena Poniatowska, the author of "Tinísmima," a wonderful biography of actress, photographer and communist militant Tina Modotti, told a gathering in memory of the dead that, "Mexico doesn't deserve the government it has today."

Mexico, it would seem, is somewhat split on that question.

highwayscribery was never crazy about how the current President, Felipe Calderon came to power and has maintained a soft spot for his lefty-wing opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador or AMLO as the media like to call him (charges of messianism and personalism notwithstanding).

John Skaglund, an acquaintance who recently became a resident of Mexico -- Morelos specifically -- told the scribe he appreciates Calderon's efforts to bring a little order to Mexico, that "any time somebody doesn't like something, they go out and block the roads and shut everything down and at least he [Calderon] is trying to do something about it."

highwayscribery is hardly frightened by such stories: that's democracy, which in its purest form, is rather sloppy.

On the other hand, it's easier to write about such things than it is to live them.

highwayscribery saint Luis Buñuel noted that the Spanish Civil War caused some second thoughts relative to his personal philosophy. In his charming autobography, "My Last Sigh," he wrote: "The first three months were the worst, mostly because of the total absence of control. I, who had been such an ardent subversive, who had so desired the overthrow of the established order, now found myself in the middle of a volcano and I was afraid...As usual, I was torn between my intellectual (and emotional) attraction to anarchy and my fundamental need for order and peace."


In any case, highwayscribery's point of view is that the pictures above speak for themselves. That, anarcho-syndically speaking, government should always act with the consent of the governed and that it is highly unlikely anyone thought it a good idea to go out and massacre the nation's youth. That little boy was someone's child and even those opposed to the students, of which there were obviously many, would hardly "consent" to his death by shooting.

People have a right to speak out and demand change in a democracy. Where there is disagreement, there is discussion and debate and, in the end, it is the government that serves the people that should concede; not those for whom the government was hired to work.

What you had in Mexico City circa 1968 was a government acting on behalf of its own will to power, rather than for the general good.

highwayscribery hates the idea of police force being used against people exercising their right to speak out on their own behalf, demanding the kind of treatment they are entitled to. It is bullying and undemocratic and the scribe has been in too many demonstrations where too many innocents have been clubbed and clobbered by under-educated idiots, brutes, sent out on behalf of our own elected officials.

Mexico has no monopoly on this behavior. It is endemic to all those in power who seem to develop a natural haughtiness where their "authority" is concerned.

It is happening in Myanmar where shooting monks is presently the popular sport, and we had it here in Los Angeles on May Day, when the goon squads of the Los Angeles Police Department took it to some people who were doing nothing, at all, wrong.

And highwayscribery, blood boiling at the thought of each individual instance, sends every one of them straight to hell.

Mexico's "La Jornada" is running a special section on Tlatelcolco with more pictures and some articles for those who read Spanish.

Have a nice day.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"The Sidewalk Smokers Club" (officially released)

the highway scribe’s book “The Sidewalk Smokers Club” is hereby proclaimed released.

Actually, it has been available for a month or two, but we wanted to wait until everybody was stuck back in their seats after all that summer fun before making the announcement. The premise of “Smokers” is simple enough. Some people who wouldn’t be friends become so because they’re not allowed to smoke inside. Essentially aging urban hipsters, they become involved in each other’s efforts handling the absurdities of modern life most of which you will recognize as your own (hopefully) That’s how the scribe hopefully gets you to relate to them before engaging you on their side in the name of habit you probably consider disgusting.

Anyway, their frequent sidewalk congresses eventually become intertwined with more public crusades so that sidewalk smoking becomes something of a fashion in the unidentified burg where the drama transpires. Eventually, The Smokers are targeted for elimination and bare their teeth in an effort to keep their sidewalk free from regulation. The book tries to address an underappreciated issue - the loss of personal freedoms in the United States and our intolerance of one another’s excesses - with other questions facing most modern societies, always with its tongue in cheek and an eye on a good laugh or insightful tidbit. Get it by clicking on the book cover to the left (under "Vedette") and enjoy!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The True Patriot Act (redux)

The Patriot Act took another hit on Wednesday (Sept. 26).

A federal judge agreed with a guy who had been arrested in Portland over the horrendous Madrid train bombings of 2004.

The government used the infamous legislation to root around in this guy’s life, arrest him wrongly, and screw up generally. And the court spanked the government for doing so.

As usual, it’s a little complicated, but let’s face it, you come to highwayscribery for decoding.

Under the Fourth Amendment the government cannot gather evidence for courtroom prosecution unless it has proven to the court there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

The Patriot Act, naturally, waived the requirement where that crazy “secret court” -- formulated under the Foreign Intelligence Security Act the administration is dying to bypass -- can be convinced the proposed surveillance of an American citizen has something to do with foreign intelligence gathering.

According to an article by Bob Egelko in the “San Francisco Chronicle,” Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon attorney was arrested after the Madrid bombings because the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed that his fingerprint matched one found at the massacre site. He cooled his heels in the pen for two weeks before the government had to admit (again!) that they’d gotten it wrong, and then ponied up $2 million of your money and the scribe’s to make him whole again.

Obviously not one to fuck around, and certainly worthy of our lionization, Mayfield went ahead and pressed his Fourth Amendment rights. Because he was already free, this effort was on your behalf and the scribe’s.

The government argued they’d already ponied up the aforementioned two bills, but Mayfield wanted the stuff they seized from his home back and sued Uncle Sam anyway.

The highwayscribery board of editors mulled this over and quickly agreed to a position clearly stating that if the government takes your stuff and then they lose the case, you get the stuff back.

The judge in Mayfield’s case, Ann Aiken, agreed: “Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the government has been prohibited from gathering evidence for use in prosecution against an American citizen in a courtroom unless the government could prove the existence of probable cause that a crime has been committed.”

Under The Patriot Act, she continued, “The people are expected to defer to the executive branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate.”

The board of directors here also voted on a non-binding proposal that says the people should never defer to the executive branch.

Aiken concluded: “For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited as well as ill-advised.”

Extra-constitutional. That’s what they are cooking up in Congress under the guise of protecting you (and the highway scribe).

And the courts are saying its stinks. Two weeks ago highwayscribery reported the striking down of the whole business with the FBI’s “national security letters.”

And it was as much a pleasure to scribble about it then as it has been today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Report "The Life of An Anarchist" by Alexander Berkman

“What we call progress has been a painful but continuous march in the direction of limited authority and the power of government and increasing the rights and liberties of the individual, of the masses."

Alexander Berkman, “The ABC of Anarchism”

Alexander Berkman burned life-long for his idea.

Berkman was an anarchist born at the turn of the 20th century. Early on he befriended the famed rabble-rouser Emma Goldman and forged a revolutionary bond that would endure until his final letter to her; contained in this exciting collection of writings entitled, "Life of an Anarchist."

Born in Russia and suckled on the idea of deposing the Czar, Berkman’s writings reveal a precocious and brilliant young mind antagonized by the injustice he saw everywhere in the world, but mostly in the work warrens sprouted everywhere by the Industrial Revolution.

So convinced were he, Goldman, and other immigrant libertarians, that the social revolution was just around the corner - for science held it to be so - that the twenty-one year Berkman injected himself into the Homestead strike of anthracite miners in Pennsylvania.

Although atheist, there is nothing hangdog about the original anarchists. Gerald Brennan, in his “The Spanish Labyrinth,” notes that they are “uncompromising moralists.”

Brennan recounts, “I was standing on a hill watching the smoke and flames of some two hundred houses in Malaga mount into the sky. An old anarchist of my acquaintance was standing beside me. ‘What do you think of that?’ he asked.

“I said, ‘They are burning down Malaga.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘they are burning it down. And I tell you - not one stone will be left on another stone - no, not a plant nor even a cabbage will grow there, so that there may be no more wickedness in the world.’

“It was the voice of Amos or Isaiah (though the old man had never read either) or of an English sectarian of the seventeenth century.”

For Brennan, the anger of the Spanish anarchists against the Catholic church, “is the anger of an intensely religious people who feel they have been deserted and deceived.”

At Homestead, the mine owners had hired the notorious Henry Frick to break the strike with his special brand of violence and industrial espionage. Workers were shot and killed. And so the brave young crazy man took it upon himself to kill Frick. Berkman shot him, but unfortunately did not kill him and ended up with 14 years of jail time for his futile efforts.

Incarcerated, he ran into a striker whom did not jibe with his anarchist’s vision of the revolutionary worker; a common experience for the free communist looking to unions as the vehicle by which the “new day” will be obtained.

Berkman was a very good writer, and this tome edited by Gene Fellner and published by Seven Stories Press, also enjoys the blessings of excellent translation.

What the scribe is trying to say is that “Life of An Anarchist,” makes for good novel-style reading.

Berkman’s account of his time in jail is truly harrowing and makes the case for a society without, as he liked to put it, “compulsion.”

Something of an anti-celebrity at the time, the young rebel was singled out for brutal attentions to which he commonly responded with more energy and defiance than the average fellow might be able to muster under such dire circumstances.

It makes for a gripping narrative as the prison dramas, personal travails, and even an attempt at escape with help from his tunnel-digging Italian anarchist friends, make for real-life human drama.

Reading an intelligent writer’s sentiments upon his release into a great, wide world that no longer knows him, nor he it, is also worth the effort.

Anarchists played for keeps in those days and an associated of Berkman’s and Goldman’s murdered President McKinley. So that when one of the periodic red scares gripped American by the throat, both found themselves arrested (more prison stories) and shipped-off to the new promised land, Russia.

It’s not a pretty chapter, the one on Russia. Arriving with a song in his heart, Berkman comes to know first hand the repression and death dealt in by the Bolsheviks - the people that ruined socialism.

He relates experiences and conversations with characters from a Russia gone by, honest and authentic folk, nearly incandescent with the promise of emancipation, often paying the cruel price of their own lives at the hands of a power crazy clan.

Berkman does a wonderful rendering of the grim face-off in Petrograd with the communist government. There the Kronstadt sailors, loyal sons of the October Revolution, made a stand in the name of democracy betrayed, proclaiming “all power to the workers soviets.”

Their massacre at the hands of Mr. Trotsky, who always enjoys the hip left’s support, what with his theory of “permanent revolution” and all, makes for sad reading; a Russian “Les Miserables,” that concludes with Berkman’s declaring the revolution dead.

The account is detailed, blow by blow. Actually, it’s journalism, clean and mean, featuring a terse narrative that lets the actual documents, declarations and decrees from both sides speak the best parts.

The last part of the book is taken up with Berkman’s “The ABC of Anarchism.”

Admittedly highwayscribery, run by a bourgeois poet maintaining a traditional family, does things with its anarchistic tongue in its syndicalist cheek. It’s a way of not taking things too seriously, but the “ABC” is a delightful primer that takes the scribe back to a hopeful youth.

A simple manual for the application of a free and communal social order, the manifesto is infused with the joy only a true black-flagger carries around, infused with the euphoria an abiding faith in human potential lights within.

He starts from square one, holding the reader’s hand while heading down the black-bricked path, formulating a Socratic dialogue:

“Anarchy, therefore, does not mean disorder and chaos, as you thought before,” Berkman writes, “On the contrary, it is the very reverse of it; it means no government, which is freedom and liberty. Disorder is the child of authority and compulsion. Liberty is the mother of order.”

He makes convincing and reasoned arguments about the social salve in taking the competition out of life, of neutering the marketplace, of eliminating discrimination. Better people, he asserts, will come from better treatment. The sky is the limit.

“Imperatives and taboos will disappear, and man will begin to be himself, to develop and express his individual tendencies and uniqueness. Instead of ‘though shall not,’ the public conscience will say ‘though mayest, taking full responsibility.’ that will be a training in human dignity and self-reliance, beginning at home and in school, which will produce a new race with a new attitude in life.

“The man of the coming day will see and feel existence on an entirely different plane. Living to him will be an art and a joy. He will cease to consider it as a race where everyone must try to become as good a runner as the fastest. He will regard leisure as more important than work, and work will fall into its proper, subordinate place as the means to leisure, to the enjoyment of life.”

This from a guy who spent his life on the run, in and out of prison, a man welcome nowhere.

In our perverse civilization, he points out, the value of things is placed on a monetary standards.

“From the viewpoint of social usefulness the street cleaners is the professional colleague of the doctor: the latter treats us when we are well, but the former helps us to keep well. Yet the physician is looked up to and respected, while the street cleaner is slighted. Why? Is it because the street cleaner’s work is dirty? But the surgeon often has much ‘dirtier’ jobs to perform. Then why is the street cleaner scorned? Because he earns little.”

Under anarchy, the wage scale will no longer be speak to the worth of the person, only their willingness to be socially useful.

Berkman’s theorizing can be applied to the very book under the glass here. Purchased at Labyrinth Books, for a paltry $2.98, its value outpaces so much of the drub that hits your face upon entering a Barnes & Nobel, (for example).

Of course. the relationship between the “industrial proletarian” and “peasant farmer” is no longer a crucial question. And Berkman’s wide-eyed view of science and all it will do for us would be somewhat tempered had he the same points of reference (Chernobyl, the declining oceans, Hiroshima, global warming) we do today.

But his hope for a society organized around the loose principles of mutual responsibility, human kindness, and equality still sounds better than anything the scribe pulled from the “New York Times” this morning (or the morning before that).

Long live anarchy!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Psychedelic Surfer

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was not your typical anarcho-syndicate.

And it may not have considered itself such, but an excellent article in the July issue of
“Surfer” magazine profiling legendary board shaper, wave hunter, film star, movie producer and all-around mad man, Mike Hynson certainly suggests they were.

The article was written by Steve Barilotti. It is not available online and we thought a highwayscribery-styled “book report” for the piece (even though it’s not a book) was in order given the great accompanying visuals, and the fact it fits a number of the blog’s themes.

Hynson was born, in Barilotti’s words,
“A pure SoCal golden child with slick-backed blond hair, Ray-Bans, and a seamless straight airtight package that could be readily sold to the mushrooming mid-’60s surf population and beyond.”

At bottom is Hynson, age 17, working as a shaper for G&S in Downtown San Diego.. A few years later he starred with some other guys in a famed surf film, “The Endless Summer.” the iconic poster for which (Hynson in the middle) is second from the bottom.

The rest, as they say, is surfstory.

“After ‘The Endless Summer’ broke big-time in 1966, Hynson’s look, now seen in full-page ads in ‘Surfer’ and ‘Surfer Illustrated,’ was copped shamelessly by mainstream media as the archetype of California style.”

(Just so it’s clear about what and whom we are talking about here.)

Ah, but the sixties were the sixties good friends. Look at the familiar temporal progression in the photos. Short to long hair, straight to freaky-deeky clothing, and a lifestyle shift to match them is what ensued.

Hynson, contrary to most surf-urges of the day, was a dandy who for a time owned a clothing store in La Jolla stocked completely with goods shipped in from Carnaby Street, when Carnaby Street was, well Carnaby Street.

By the time the conversion was complete, Barilotti notes, Hynson had decided to spurn the gifts laid at his feet by the gods of surf commerce. “His choice to go it alone, without the backing of a leading board house such as Hobie or G&S, resulted in his being subtly moved out of the golden light of surf-media celebrity and assigned the status of drug-addled eccentric.”

Which clearly (perhaps proudly) he was.

Barilotti jumps around a bit in his piece, choosing to lede with Hynson’s involvement as co-producer of a strange film product involving the collaboration of Jimi Hendrix known as
“Rainbow Bridge,” which highwayscribery promises to review sometime in the near future.

It’s an interesting story about how Hendrix’s death held up the film’s release and how Hynson, seen in the third picture from the bottom during the shoot, and director Chuck Wein, skirted legal issues with Warner Bros., and “four-walled” the film at the South Coast Cinema in Laguna Beach, south O.C.

Present at the 1971 premiere were,
“the Brotherhood of Eternal Love -- a freewheeling crew of spiritual seekers and psychedelic buccaneers...”

(More Barilotti)

“The Brotherhood, set up a church in 1966, proclaimed LSD and other mind altering drugs to be sacramental pathways to enlightenment. Their philosophies drew heavily from the preachings of psychedelic high priest Timothy Leary, who at times lived with Brotherhood members in Laguna.”

Leary was on then-President Nixon’s infamous “list of enemies” and this article suggests that the cooler, younger, sexier Hynson probably was, too, given his potential for corrupting the minds of a particularly susceptible generation.

Anyway, the premiere was a gift to a brother surfer named Johnny Gale; a crazy guy given to splashing tabs of Orange Sunshine acid at local rock audiences and who built a fortune through illegal drug sales before (surprise!) dying violently in car crash that the article suggests had something to do with those same illegal drug sales.

Also at the premiere were some local narcs of the federal stripe who did not take kindly to a portion of the film wherein some Hawaii surfers bust open a surfboard yielding a stash of Afghani hashish with a poster of Nixon hovering that read, “Would you buy a used car from this man?”

It’s easy to look back at those times as completely free and open and wild, somehow innocent and forgiving, but when you look harder you see the universal military draft, an ongoing war that, from a casualty perspective makes Iraq look like a family feud.

In that light it becomes clear that those crazy self-destructive pioneers of radical politics and sheer sensuality lived dangerously. Why they did so is for the psychologists to determine.

That movie scene, the article continues,
“which brought on howls of derisive laughter from the audience, was an audacious slap in the face of Nixon, the [Drug Enforcement Agency], and especially [local narc] Neal Purcell - a bold yet foolhardy act of defiance that spurred retaliation and a global manhunt that lasted more than 25 years.”

Crazy times. Times in which the daughter of a U.S. Senator, Melinda Merryweather, could act in something like “Rainbow Bridge” and marry the psychedelic surfer/producer.

Soon after the film was screened, agents busted into Hynson’s cutting-edge shaping studio, Rainbow, and busted some of the custom boards open with rifle butts in a futile search for Afghani hash.

No one ever accused the federal government of committing the original turn of thought.

The article gets into the specifics of Hynson’s approach to shaping, the radical nature of his “rails,” which are the side parts of the board. Before Hynson, boards were flat and rounded and sat atop the water. After his innovative, razor sharp edges boards road through tubes and cut the waves up.

Fourth from the bottom is a photo of the Rainbow Surf and Juice Bar in 1973. It was designed by architect Ken Kellogg and “hand built by Hynson without a single nail or square corner,” according to the article.

Hynson’s passion was so abiding that he and a friend,
“sweet-talked their way around the Sea World front office to have one of the handlers coax a trained dolphin named Cindy up on the ramp so that Hynson could meticulously trace and duplicate her dorsal fin.

“He wrote later, ‘The softness, the rounded corners the fact that it’s a natural design that works for one of God’s perfectly functional creations. And if you can put your head in that place, and maybe this fin will help, it will be the beginning of a new awareness and surfing’.”

That’s enough to know there, although the article gives lots of love to the design aspect, because it is, after all “Surfer” mag.

Journalistic requirements obligate the scribe to wind up a story you know too well. The early ’70s, the cocaine, the end of “the dream” and, once again, the dissipation of a streaking, creative spirit.

Hynson spent the last 15 years or so sleeping in garages along the San Diego County coast, doing a number of stints in jail and just trying to keep his lonely difficult life afloat.

As the article notes,
“‘The Endless Summer” and the Summer of Love were long over. The mother wave of all bad Karma was feathering on the horizon, and the best Hynson could do for the next 25 years was suck it in and scratch for the bottom.”

The surf metaphors are actually more refreshing here at highwayscribery than at “Surfer” where the writers work hard concocting original prose for so specialized an interest already burdened with its own linguistic signposts.

What saved Hynson, and led to the writing of the piece, was his continued commitment to board shaping, what the article called the endless
“quest for forms” ... his craft.

Hynson’s shapes are back in demand in the strange and impermeable culture of surf, he’s back on the map and, over sixty, still good with his tools.

He has a
Web site and the boards are beginning to sell, which makes this fascinating story happier at the endpoint, then it has been for so many of his contemporaries.

"Under the Watchful Eye" (An ACLU Report)

In "Spies Like Them," highwayscribery promised to read for you, the highwayscribery nation, a recent ACLU of San Diego-Imperial Counties study on government's increasing use of surveillance cameras to monitor the goings-on in public spaces and to report back.

Mission accomplished:

Orwell got the date wrong, but the cameras are here now and more sinister technologies on the way.

The result, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, “is a dramatic expansion of government video surveillance of public space at the local level.”

That’s longhand for, “You’re being watched when you’re out in the street.”

The report, “Under the Watchful Eye,” included a survey of 131 communities nationwide that have employed cameras in their parks, streets, and other public meeting places while also taking the temperature in Great Britain where they’ve gone hells-bells for the new surveillance technology.

The report concludes that, “Video surveillance systems are proliferating despite the fact that they infringe on the freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment and threaten the anonymity and privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment and state constitutions.”

The idea of video surveillance is noxious to civil libertarians, but coupled with the application of other, newfangled toys coming down the pike, it becomes downright poisonous.

That’s because the repressive impact multiplies when government combines cameras with emerging technologies such as automated identification software, face and eye scans, radio frequency identification tags (RFID), and databases at the fingertips of law enforcement.

For example, by combining video footage with face recognition software, enforcement gremlins can quickly identify people simply strolling down the street or up to political mischief, such as demonstrating.

Because an iris is as unique as a fingerprint, the same goes for eye-scanning technology.

If, (when?) RFID tags are embedded in identity cards, and machines that read integrated into surveillance cameras, “government would be able to collect and compile an immense amount of information about individuals and their private lives,” the ACLU observed.

The Man does not have digital photographs and “biometric” information on file for most people, but he wants it and passage of the nefarious Real ID Act last year will help him get it. The report urges pressure from the states and civil liberties groups in an effort to stop the federal government from taking another step towards Orwell’s nightmare.

Otherwise, they will have profiles not just on criminals and “suspected terrorists” (the great bugaboo of the nascent century), but regular and abnormal folks just like you, too.

What kind of information? Well, it might include, “your motor vehicle records, police records, employment history, DNA and drug testing records, and you and your family’s travel and buying habits.”

That’s long-hand for, “Your closet and all its skeletons.”

Lawmakers' response to this expansion of government capacity for obtaining, sifting through and archiving the days of your lives has been wan at best. Consequently, the courts’ view of privacy protections in public settings have no legal basis to expand and keep the snoops away.

Okay, you’re American, you were born within the past 25 years and not exactly fed on a civil libertarian diet of ideas from on high. You live in a culture of violence on television and a reality of violence in the street. You’re saying, “Hey, if someone’s behaving well, then they don’t have to worry about being watched.”

Oh, you poor product of the fading conservative era!

Sad reality, this business of having to inform you that, “People have a right not only to engage in speech and protest on public streets, but also to do so anonymously so that they can speak without fear of reprisal from the government. This right to anonymity, or namelessness, is necessarily tied to privacy” (quote the report).

Think of doing and saying and doing some of things you say and do over the Internet without that catchy handle in lieu of your real name. That keeps you anonymous, or so you hope; assured that if someone were watching, your cyber-life might be radically different.

“Installing cameras in public spaces is tantamount to requiring people to identify themselves whenever they walk, speak, or meet in public,” said the report.

And it goes on to point out how Fourth Amendment establishes a zone of control around our bodies and possessions. To transgress this zone, the government has to demonstrate there is a reasonable cause to expect some hijinks. The zone extends beyond the front door of our dwelling, literally following us as we traipse through the public scene.

Now we know you were reading your handy copy of the Constitution just last night, but in case you were drinking at the time, here’s a refresher on what The Founding Fathers Fourth Gift says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.”

At least some sitting on the nation’s highest court get the message. Here’s Justice John Paul Stephens asserting that, “the decision in favor of anonymity is motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much one’s privacy as is an aspect of freedom of speech protected by the Fourth Amendment.”

If all the high-flown rhetoric about liberty and freedom (who needs em?!) doesn't get your goat, here's a more pedestrian concern to mull...

...The damn things don’t really do what they’re supposed to.

A 1999 study by the Scottish Central Research Unit did a before-and-after analysis of surveillance apparatus in Glasgow, Scotland and found reductions in crime “no more significant than those in control areas without the camera locations.”

For those of you who forgot their Psych 101, "control" gruops or areas are the "regular" set-ups by which you compare results with the experimental group (or area).

The British Home Office weighed data from 18 jurisdictions, found some improvement in parking garages, but ultimately concluded that closed circuit television monitoring, “led to negligible reduction in crime of about 2 percent in the experimental areas compared with the control areas.”

They found that people who were aware of the cameras actually were more freaked out about the possibility of being a crime victim, which is not good when you consider that, in London, the average person is now captured on video camera 300 times a day.


In one U.S. study, robbers themselves claimed that cameras and videos aren’t effective and don’t keep them from robbing, and we know this because the nightly news in the U.S. often shows us robberies, murders even, caught on video tape, typically in liquor or convenience stores.

Another study in Cincinnati, Ohio found that the city’s program merely shifted crime beyond the view of the cameras.

But 9/11 paranoia rules public discourse and incompetence personified in the president himself drives public policy, so they’re going in for the new technology without understanding its far-reaching impacts.

The report found that municipalities actively monitoring surveillance footage have done little or nothing to determine its effectiveness nor compared benefits against other programs and approaches.

Of course, even if the cameras don’t protect the populace, they serve other myriad and intrusive goals of the security apparatus not usually cited as the rationale for their application.

In the end it’s just more bad public policy. Amost anywhere else, some kind of means-testing would be required. But here, where reaction rules, cameras, like big border fences, triumph for simply sounding like good ideas.

While he was Mayor of Oakland, current State Attorney General Jerry Brown rejected the use of surveillance cameras, arguing that, “Reducing crime is something the community and police must work on together. Installing a few or a few dozen surveillance cameras will not make us safe. It should also not be forgotten that the intrusive powers of the state are growing with each passing decade.”

Let’s see if having him in the legal drivers seat serves to protect California’s from the creeping hand of the security state.