Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Faces: An Appreciation

Probably the best thing about growing older these days is the low price of album’s from one’s time.

Last night the scribe converted a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card from mrs. scribe, a Christmas offering, into an album of greatest hits by The Faces pop group called “Good Boys... When They’re Asleep.”

It cost $12 and that’s cheap for a guy who doesn’t have an MP3 player and laments the lack of outlets for purchasing music the old way – bargain bin prices for those of us stuck in the time warp of paying for “ElPees” (long players).

A renewed interest in this old-time boogie band (1970-1975) can be chalked up to endless musical investigations of brother-in-law Clinton; the only person in the world to have placed value on information gleaned from the misspent youth that was the highway scribe’s.

Clint’s been listening to a unique treasure trove of ’60s - ’70s music found on the Web site,
Wolfgang’s Vault, a depository for the late and great rock-and-roll impresario Bill Graham. Not long ago, The Faces were the “concert-of-the week” and Clinton burned a few opening numbers and passed it along.

The Faces were vaulted back onto the scribe’s radar a couple of years earlier when some Madison Avenue types absconded with their wonderful “Oooh La La” for the purpose of selling cars. Maybe you remember it:

I wish
I knew what I know now
when I was younger!

But it was the CD from Clinton, that raw guitar of Ronnie Wood’s pushing the even rawer voice of a young Rod Stewart, that took the scribe back to a place of appreciation for those wonderful Faces.

Clint will listen to any of the scribe’s stardust memories about long ago and was more than willing to accept that the Faces were “enormous” in their time, despite their relative anonymity now.

Yes, Rod Stewart is a very famous man/celebrity and Ronnie Wood’s sitting pretty as co-guitar with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, but who today remembers their turn as pretty Faces?

Tucked away on Long Island, New York, escaping only to Manhattan for rock shows at Madison Square Garden, the scribe was not nearly as worldly as now and his perception of the Faces’ hugeness can be largely attributed to the fact he lived, ate, and breathed a now-defunct rock rag weekly called “Creem.”

“Creem,” ran hundreds of words about the soap opera that was the band; scores of pictures of The Faces, including Rod with Swedish sexsation Britt Eklund, and the rest of the boys waving whisky bottles around on stage, leaning loopily upon one another in trashed hotel rooms.

They were a unique blend of pretty boy pop group and serious rock outfit that lent themselves to the magazine’s format, which was irreverent, chancy and hungry for gossip. Cameron Crowe, the guy who directed “Almost Famous,” wrote for “Creem” as ( his pen name escapes now) “the world’s most au courant teenager.”

the scribe was crushed, crushed, when “Creem” cheekily announced the break-up in 1975. “Your Pretty Faces Have All Gone To Hell. How Will You Carry On?” (Or something to that effect.)

Anyway, the point is, The Faces may (or may not) have been as big as the scribe remembers through the prism of “Creem,” but they were clearly big enough to gain a foothold in a corporate closet like Barnes and Noble 32 years after the fact.

And surprise of surprises when the liner notes to the CD turned out to be written by Dave Marsh, a regular at “Creem” in the early ’70s.

Here’s how he opens things up: “For me and my crew at the notorious garage-punk rock magazine ‘Creem’, the advent of The Faces in 1970 was a dream come true.”

That explains that.

More Marsh: "Like the Rolling Stones, they were obsessed with R&B; like the The Who, they sported Mod clothes, coifs, and attitudes; like The Beatles and The Kinks, they adapted the anarchic, goofy spirit of the vaudevillian British music hall to the rock 'n roll stage."

Count on highwayscribery for your "anarchic."

Marsh provides some valuable history: The Faces were an offshoot of a ’60s group known as the Small Faces, led by Steven Marriott who left the group in 1969 to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. During those times, apparently, guitar god Jeff Beck also had a band with Rod Stewart as vocalist and Ronnie Wood on bass (!).

When Marriott blew town (as it were) Stewart and Wood decided to join the remaining Small Faces -- Ronnie Lane, Ian McClagan and Kenney Jones -- drop the “Small” (because they were kind of tall) and forge ahead as the subject of this post.

"I can still remember seeing them take the stage for the first time,” wrote Marsh, “one cold night at the Eastown Theater, a 2,500-seat ballroom packed to the rafters with local rowdies.”

One simple sentence in summation of a time. Clint frequents live shows, but the scribe usually demurs in accompanying him for he finds no joy or identification with the concert crowds of today.

At 14, 15, and 16 years of age the scribe reveled in the mobs of ill-behaved boys and sex-cruising teeny girls, suburban toughs, spun from the green lawns of Long Island.

They seemed countless, legion, and the scribe took heart at their scruffiness and smokiness; found safety in the ample numbers. Certainly all these wayward kids weren’t on the path to ruination? (they were) They couldn’t all be threatened with home expulsion over the length of their hair? (again, they were)

There was a contagious attitude about the youths and the scribe returned home to battle the parents with a new sense of urgency and commitment.

Over what? Priorities kiddies: pot, beer, rock music, money for shows, ElPees, and petting rocker girls, (though not necessarily in that order).

And a good band mirrored all that. Here’s Marsh: “Faces took that stage the way they took over every stage I ever saw them on, from Louisville to Madison Square Garden. They took it the way a teenage gang takes over a corner, rolling into place with unfeigned casualness, tossing a leer and a giggle here and there. They could barely have known a soul in the room, but they acted like they owned the place. Then, like a gang with good intentions, they began bashing away at everything in the neighborhood, nailed down or not, raising a ruckus and ensuring a great time for everyone willing to participate.”

Rock ’n “Role” models, you see...

And because of this, school studies were a source of great concern because they were very far behind the six priorities listed above. In that time, and place, good grades were a mark of shame, barely lower than a clean haircut, and knowing how to play guitar a source of certain and elevated status.

Thanks to a similarly dissolute best friend, Darren Wiseman, there was literature, even if for all the wrong reasons. Darren and the future scribe sat in the school library reading Herman Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund,” largely because Goldmund had weaseled his way into the bed of a certain medieval knight’s two teenage daughters - a definite rock-fed fantasy buried in a “legitimate” book.

An essay penned in senior year on the character of Goldmund was widely appreciated by the English Department and went a long way toward demonstrating the scribe’s otherwise sketchy academic solvency.

Later, in college, a kid named Crash gave the scribe a tape with Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” on one side, and The Faces' “A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse” on the other. What with Wood playing both on The Faces' offerings and Stewart’s solo albums it was hard (and unnecessary) to distinguish between the efforts.

It is also worth noting that Stewart, in the single seminal year of 1971, was part of three classic albums, the third being The Faces’ “Long Player;” a string of beauties that form the quality nut of his career.

The writer’s progress continued apace over the years, these values receding, yet lurking, beneath the developing persona of urbane, urban, syndicalist literary lion.

In the early ’90s, the scribe penned a screenplay entitled “Chasing Cuqui Molina,” which recounted the adventures of an English rocker, Peter Coverdale (“heir apparent to Townsend and Weller”), and a Gypsy guitarist in pursuit of a flamenco goddess across Andalusia (where he was living).

The Faces’ “Pool Hall Richard,” and “Had Me a Real Good Time,” fleshed out the English character’s devil-may-care attitude, figuring prominently in the soundtrack to another film that was never made, but should have been.

In fact, for years,
“Had Me A Real Good Time,” stood as personal anthem and credo while the gates of wealth and prestige and pretension were breached with little more than an arsenal of pretty words to buck the highway scribe up.

Thought I was looking’ good
So I cycled cross the neighborhood
Was invited by a skinny girl
Into her high class world

Left my bicycle under the stairs
Laid my coat across the kosher chairs
made my way across the crowded room
I had nothing to lose

My reception wasn’t very keen
So turning on a friendly grin,
Stood on the table with my glass of gin
and came straight to the point

I was glaaaaaaad to come!
I’ll be saaaaaad to go
So while I’m here
I’ll have me a reeeeeal good time!

The years may pass and the gap between one’s aspirations and reality may pinch, but not getting invited back to the party is not without its piquant pleasures.

Thanks lads!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Credit Crookery Redux

Today Mrs. Scribe took to the phone in search of a reason for $70 worth of charges on a credit card she does not use.

The phone people, of course, had a very good reason for that debt in spite of the fact no purchase had ever triggered it.

Mrs. Scribe persisted. The phone attendant insisted she had no authority to wave the fees and said a supervisor would attend to Mrs. Scribe's grievance. The gentleman, naturally, had no intention of using the authority his predecessor did not possess to cancel any of the late fees or penalties on the never-accrued debt.

But while the phone transfer was occurring, the highway scribe told his wife to bring up the meeting at the White House last week and drop in a few comments about egregious charges being targeted by Congress.

Although it didn't come out quite that way, Mrs. Scribe's assertion that "this is why Barack Obama had you people up to the White House," did the trick.

Angrily, the supervisor agreed to wave the mystery fees.

Credit card companies are under pressure and it is up to average Americans being squeezed by them to push back and make clear they're aware of the rare and powerful friend they have living on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tomorrow, the Mrs. Scribe returns to do battle with Chase, which just bought WaMu and raised her interest rate from 9 percent to 28 percent.

These people just don't get it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Credit Crookery

The voice at the other end of the phone, representing Bank of America's credit card division, had just gotten an earful and then unburdened herself by a simple tilting of the head.

What spilled from that empty vessel were suggestions from highwayscribery that she, in no uncertain terms, visit Hell in the not-so-distant future.

The basic outlines of our discussion involved- and this probably will sound familiar - a rather arbitrary and dramatic annual rate interest increase from percent to 28.something percent.

Having paid the BofA Visa credit card through the BofA online banking system on the due date, the financial giant and recipient of highwayscribery's tax money, applied a cutoff date based on Eastern Standard Time when the scribe lives in a place that starts and finishes three hours later.

The upshot was a bank determination that the scribe had been late on two different occasions and was therefore worthy of a "default" interest rate of 28.something.

The Random House College Dictionary entry for the word reads thusly: de.fault n. 1. failure to act; neglect 2. failure to meet financial obligations.

highwayscribery told the absolutely useless woman that his situation certainly did not meet the first criteria, while any claim he fell short of the second represented something of a stretch and did not merit a 27.something interest rate hike.

the scribe pointed to the meaty sums he'd contributed in recent months to paying down his debt. He further argued that to stain such a sterling record with a pair of time difference discrepancies - "isn't electronic transfer immediate?" - was punitive and unfair.

Her response, though not in so many words, was that life is unfair and Bank of America punitive.

Finally, in a fit of ridiculousness, the scribe added how he was going to contact the White House in the hopes President Obama went after the company's greedy rear-ends.

He never believed it was actually going to happen, and yet, on Friday, there was the man himself, having exercised the enormous power of his office on behalf of people being screwed by banks everywhere, "jawboning" credit card executives at the Big House.

The "New York Times," April 24, ran the adjoining photograph of President Obama sitting with these crooks and apprising them of coming changes to their profit margin based on new legislation in Congress that would put an end to the shenanigans that daily enrich them while impoverishing the rest of us.

Most of these people run companies awash in taxpayer money and are reporting tentative profits after having single-handedly wrecked the world economy with their high-flying financial fakery.

Stephen Labaton reported that the Federal Reserve Bank has already approved some reforms that will kick-in next year, and that the President told the moneychangers, "I know you feel that anything beyond what the Fed has done would be overkill. I just disagree."

Now that's what the scribe calls having a friend in the White House and he's rather shocked to find that friend. All his scribbled ministrations on behalf of the candidate Obama not withstanding.

When one spends 20 or 30 years preaching that government should serve as a countervailing force against the most powerful national interests, and favor the less fortunate, it becomes a kind of pie-in-the-sky sermon conjuring up some revolutionary rapture that would yield the milk-and-honey land.

But here it is thanks to the 2008 election when a majority of the American people woke up to the fact they'd been being screwed all these years and cathartically rejected the Republican dogma of individual freedom for the red herring it is.

And so, The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009 (H.R. 627), sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would, among other things:

- require your credit card company to let you know in advance of its plans to increase your interest rate;
- ban "retroactive" interest rate increases on existing balances unless you're more than 30 days late on a payment, which is something closer to "default" than some time-zone infraction;

These are in the Federal Reserve Banks new regulation, but, The Times reports, "the industry strongly opposes the bill because it believes the law would be harder to overturn than a regulation."


Sounds like we need the law.

the scribe and Mrs. Scribe saw Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) who is one of the many nondescript pitchers pulled from the GOP bullpen of late. He talked a good game about a party worrying over those Americans sitting around the kitchen table trying to make ends meet, which, although he didn't see it, include inequitable credit card charges.

But according to the "Times," editorial department, The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009 is facing "fierce," opposition from Republicans in Congress.

Americans now know, and expect, the party's pro-corporate postures, whereas before they weren't so sure and which is why the Democrats hold the keys to the kingdom these days.

If this keeps up, a recent letter by the scribe to his Blue Cross administrator, praying that Obama sets up a socialized health care system and puts predatory health care insurers out of business, may be more than idle dreaming.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Willow and Other Wonders

The Rifton Hotel

Red worms, catfish, snakeskins, wasps, bats, pickerel, beaver dams, burned autumn leaves, sleigh rides and lily pads.

These bits of Americana were, along with others, part of a year spent in rural New York state. The location, to be precise, was the Rifton Spanish-American Hotel and Country Club.

It loomed alongside a two-lane country road around the bend from which sat a tiny hamlet featuring a grocery story with a screen door that screamed at the springs when pushed open.

There was a giant, three-story hotel connected by a walkway between green lawns and towering maple trees, to a casino with bar and bandstand. A shady hill dropped down to a blackish-brown pond known as "The Lake."

There were rowboats on small, muddy beaches at the hill's end, and directly across the pond. It was not so much a pond or lake as the widening of a stream passing through the property and under a bridge where it continued its narrow journey as part of the larger Esopus Creek watershed.

Down the path over that bridge, toward the back of the property, was a sky blue swimming pool with many a patch job in evidence. Some fifty feet away was a "haunted house" that had lodged the resort's domestic help in better times, abandoned and vandalized.

Each of the singular elements surrounding the hotel - The Lake and pool, the casino, the bungalow where we lived - represented complex worlds to the eyes of a seven-year old boy bursting with curiosity and bloodlust. And these were augmented by other sections of the 100-plus-acre property. Distinct kingdoms of animal life and sap-thick richness to fully overwhelm the imagination of any child, at any age.

That single summer, for an able wordsmith and observer, offered enough stories to fill a book and perhaps, in later years with the wells of imagination and experience run dry, will lead to something like that. For now these select recollections must do as a list of all-star anecdotes in a long rank-and-file of remembrances.

One involves a willow tree. Perhaps 100 years ago, most American boys still inhabiting an undeveloped landscape, might hope to have their own, but by the late 1960s, the possibility had diminished.

But I had a willow.

It was a majestic thing that swung out over The Lake on the path down to the pool, just before the bridge that covered the creek. It's overall effect was that of a shelter. Only the slightest glimmers of sunshine on a hot summer day could spark through the thick roofing of olive-colored leaves. The branches drooped until they tickled the water's surface so that the tree marked a definite world, a micro-universe unique unto itself.

Fish liked the coverage as much as the seven-year old boy did. And if that weren't enough, through the rails of the plank fence and directly across the pathway was a six-foot parcel of much-turned soil riddled with reddish worms. These were the favorite food of the sunnies and catfish and carp that called the shady pool beneath the willow arcade home. It is almost a certainty that these fish, beneficiaries of a "never kill" policy, were caught repeated times by the little Indian who lorded over their inky universe.

My Willow in the background.
Still a child with childlike notions, I would leave behind a rod in the water with many worms writhing about the rusty hook, fully expecting a much larger fish to be caught upon returning; the logic being that the more time the line was submerged, the bigger the prey.

From the dark, dank, mostly unoccupied third story of the hotel, the pond's meatiest inhabitants could be seen suspended on a sunny day, and they remained, forever, desired quarry never to be captured.

The wormy trap left behind, the path led up to the hotel before which spread a gravel parking lot. It lay on a significant dip down from a driveway facing the front porch with its forty or fifty wicker-wound rockers. It featured a rusty barrel meant to serve as garbage pale, but doing dual duty as a strike-zone for long, conjured baseball games in which no hits were achieved by either the New York Yankees or one of their American League rivals.

Winding up and hurling the gravel at the barrel yielded either a strike - when it was hit - or a ball, and complete games of nine innings were unwound with the Yankees usually finding a little help into the winner's column from that boy's prejudiced arm.

Baseball was a reigning passion, but there was no television to speak of in "the country" at the time. Locals had elaborate, spidery antennae to draw a channel or two from New York City and a visit with them was a treat, although even they did not always get a "clean reception."

The New York Daily News was available from the grocer with the screaming screen door, but technology was such that it went to press without the outcome of an evening contest having been decided. "Yankees - Baltimore nt" the box score would read; code for night game with unknown result. The upshot was that it sometimes took three days to find out who won. Unless, of course, some guest from the city arrived with the news.

The hotel itself seemed terribly old and beyond the grasp of a juvenile's perception in terms of time and size. There was a wooden lobby at the center of the structure that might have been small but seemed enormous to someone no taller than four feet. There was an equally wooden staircase that fed the behemoth's two different wings with luggage carting arrivals.

Brown, mahogany, maroon and velvety are accents that force their way through the cobwebs of time altogether. The walls were stucco and furniture in the rooms slung simple iron loops, sinks of porcelain, and embellishments seemingly old beyond belief, but probably not so dated for anyone exceeding 20 years of age.

Some rooms had bathes, showers, and toilets, but those that didn't were served by a public facility down the hall. Another accent, a surviving accident, from a time gone by. My grandmother, ever economical, prepared the place for opening weekend by putting myself and the little sister to work painting walls.

She got what she paid for and couldn't have been more pleased with both the joy we took in our labors and their sloppy final result.

Musty and moldy, the hotel was also foreign, with its Puerto Rican chefs and scent of heavy cooking oil in the great timber and steel kitchen, its crossdressing waiters from Cuba, and its Spanish-inspired dishes. It was a world of people with accents and bilingual tics all of which would serve in accommodating us to the changing face of America for, exposed young, such things never seemed foreign at all.

The Author With His Sister in the Driveway.
There was a dining room that also impressed for its size, the number of tables and chairs, but most of all, for its light which poured in from the two walls of windows that met at a perpendicular angle and opened up onto the lovely green and wild vistas of the carelessly kept grounds.

Of course, the reality may have been something other, but renderings are pulled from the walls of memory erected in a harried human head.

My Parents managed the property in its waning days and to augment income they would contract with "jiras" or tour groups of Latins from inner city Manhattan who came up for the day to play congas, drink beer, be entertained by the salsa band at work in the casino before leaving a mess behind, and heading home again. Wild and intimidating and unkempt, they arrived with tough and uncouth children who lacked the kind of polish expected of ourselves or evidenced in the offspring of families who came to stay for one week or even two. But nothing bad ever happened and their presence served to plant further seeds of familiarity with a culture that would become partially our own.

There are many other components to the larger memory of that time and place. The bats that flew at night, the croaking of giant bullfrogs in the evening, giant wasps nests, the anxious preparations for the Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends.

There are specific personalities that include American rustics and south-of-the-border exotics, Manhattanite sophisticates, and a great giant St. Bernard that had to be banished from the place because of all the business he drove away with his unrestrained antics.

But nature, and two elements in particular, push their smells and features through 40years of time and forgetfulness.

Chronologically, we must start with the strawberries. Down the hill from the path connecting the hotel and the casino, past the cut and sloping lawn, were some dilapidated and worm-eaten wooden fences beyond which things began to grow wild before being halted by the stream meandering into The Lake.

Here were found wild strawberries not evident to the untrained eye, camouflaged by so much ground coverage, poison ivy, myrtle, but tiny, ripe, and plentiful in the earliest phases of spring. Down the hill we bounded with pails and into the natural garden we dove, alternately eating our catch and storing them for later failed experiments in preserve-making back at the cavernous kitchen. They were delicious and a source of marvel to young souls confronted with proof that out of the incongruous dirt something better than candy could be coaxed.

In the autumn the property, rich with trees, was covered in a carpet of flame-marbled leaves that had to be gathered up into great piles before being placed into the same barrel that served as a summertime batter's box, for burning.

With grandmother as field marshal, the rhythm was anything but harried and the job could take all day. There were leaves to be chased as they dropped dead from the spindly branches, tracked in whimsical circles until they fell into our hands or softly to the padded ground. There were piles, often moistened by grass and mud intermingled with the sheaves, that had to be broken with full body dives and spread about by writhing little limbs.

Halloween shadows were ever-present to our young imaginations, the country road beckoning for that dark night, when the jack-o-lanterns glowed with orange light, and the nipping winds and animal spirits commingled and converted cozy homes to haunted houses.

And then there was the burning of the leaves itself, the fixed stare at the crackly yellow fires, and the crisp smell that only people who lived in that time might still identify with copper autumn and the foreboding gray and snow-bleached winter following close behind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The View from Abroad

With Dick Cheney roaring the benefits of torturing foreign citizens and right-wingers upset with President Obama's projection of American power abroad, it's a good time to see how things are playing overseas.

To that end, highwayscribery is going to translate an article penned by Jorge Ramos Avalos from today's "Diario San Diego."

Ramos, for those of you not versed in Latin American culture, is a Mexican journalist of enormous prestige whose reputation is derived from his objectivity, lack of ideological prerogatives, breadth of culture and coverage in the southern hemisphere.

That's him next to Ana de la Reguera, about whom we know little other than that her image is worthy of reproduction.

In "The End of Big Brother," Ramos writes that Obama's appearance at the recent confab of Latin American leaders in Trinidad and Tobago, "broke prejudices and schemes that, in some cases, took decades to construct."

On that trip, Ramos observes, Obama agreed to deal with the Cuban dictatorship, a novelty not witnessed in 50 years. He shook the hand of Hugo Chavez in spite of prior insults directed at him and in contrast to his predecessor who "hid" from the Venezuelan.

Obama, he continues, treated Mexico as an equal, jettisoning an era of U.S. congressional "certifications' of that country's efforts to deal with its [our] drug problem.

"He promised change and that's what we're seeing," Ramos wrote. "In just two days time, Obama launched a completely new policy toward Latin America."

Of course, this is what has the right-wingers so upset. Great fans of the "global" economy, their understanding is that all its participants be subservient to U.S. interests. When flashpoints arise from the hatred this unilateralism breeds, the redneck analysis is that they "hate freedom."

What they hate is something quite the opposite.

Ramos views Obama's perspective as one of give and take: That the U.S. won't stick its nose in the affairs of Latin America, but will not accept the blame for all its ills.

The prior approach, still a favorite at FOX News, was to interfere and deny the effects of that interference.

In Cuba, Obama is trying something different than his 10 predecessors, all of whom failed in their efforts to dislodge the Castro regime from power.

In an interview with Ramos, the president said, "During the past 50 years the status quo has failed to promote liberty or democracy in Cuba and I'm ready to try some new things in an effort to break up the old bosses."

Unwilling or, as we know from this side of the border, unable to renew a ban on the assault weapons causinng Mexican law enforcement so much trouble, Ramos noted that Obama has proposed to Mexican President Felipe Calderon, "a relationship of mutual responsibility, of partners in a process."

The "Univision" tele-journalist said Obama reasserted his position that "round-ups" of illegal immigrants in the U.S. solve nothing and that he has communicated this sentiment to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"I can't promise immigration reform," the president told Ramos, "because the outcome is not mine alone to determine, but it is mine to initiate a process and that I promise to do."

These items are music to the ears of our southern neighbors. Our own southerners, clumped into the Republican Party as the are, have long viewed foreign agreement with our international policy as evidence of failure, but Obama has a different understanding of the way it should work.

Ramos sees this in Obama's familiarity with soccer, which he played during that part of his childhood lived in Indonesia, and his desire to prod a return of the World Cup to the U.S. in 2018 or 2020.

"Obama no longer wants the U.S. to be the hemisphere's big brother," observes Ramos,
''except when it comes to soccer, which he wants to invite everyone to his house to play."

For conservatives who feel their world overrun by federal takeovers of financial institutions and the imagined avalanche of gay marriages eroding our nation's moral fiber, Ramos' conclusion should serve as salve:

"In spite of Obama's best intentions, it will be hard to forget that, in may ways, the United States still owns the soccer ball."

And that should make for a Happy Hannity.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fatal Handshakes?

In Newt Gingrich's diplomacy can the roots of his disastrous marriages be discerned.

The former House Speaker from a zillion years ago thinks President Obama talking with Hugo Chavez is a sign of "weakness."

highwayscribery does not watch the morning shows, but according to "Politico," Gingrich showed up on a bunch of them today (April 20) in another effort to revive his career.

He told FOX & Friends (he's one of the friends) "Frankly, this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter."

He was being "frank," and not calculating or compulsively negative like the FOX he's friends with.

"Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators - when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead."

Carter, you see, got together with people like Cyrus Vance and Zbignew Brezinski circa 1976 and said, "let's try a foreign policy rooted in weakness."

Tarring the Democratic Party with the Nobel Peace prize winner's presidency used to be a potent firearm in the Republican arsenal, but now gains no more traction than calling Obama a socialist does.

And that's because after eight years of Republican misrule, Carter doesn't look so bad...and neither does socialism.

Now let us be, er um, "frank" here. highwayscribery has very little use for Hugo Chavez. We think he is a bully and wrong to keep amending the Venezuelan constitution so that he can continue running for president.

Much the same way we think the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg is wrong for amending voter-imposed term limits to suit his own purposes.

But we weren't talking about New York, we were talking about Chavez whom we think is undemocratic and unfair to the Venezuelan opposition.

We think he gives socialism a bad name and has not demonstrated much breadth of intellect by repeating errors of socialist governments past, rather than manifesting an accumulated acumen from lessons learned.

But we don't think talking to him at a diplomatic event is a sign of weakness. We think it is diplomatic.

Because highwayscribery has an international perspective, we are comprehending of the Latin American viewpoint, which sees that continent as something of plantation for American corporate interests.

We're also familiar with the author of the book outlining this position Chavez gave Obama. Eduardo Galeano is a serious and respected man of letters in the Spanish-speaking world who would probably have little use for the Venezuelan strongman.

The Republican Party in its current state of ineptitude lacks a response to the health care crisis or any of the daily problems it created and which the president must now spend his days trying to fix.

Piling on with their "ideas man" Gingrich were senators John Ensign of Nevada and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Gregg, you'll remember, agreed to be Obama's commerce secretary, but then backed down in the purest example of his party's inability to govern and preference for obstruction.

We don't know anything about Ensign, but what little he said justifies our lack of curiosity:

"I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez. When you're talking about the prestige of the United States and the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you're seen joking around with."

Ensign doesn't seem to think the prestige is very sturdy if a smiley photo-op can undermine it.

Back in the days when the mainstream media used to amplify, without comment, anything the Bush administration sought to convey, bloggers had a real purpose, but President Obama's response to the manufactured hoopla over his Chavez handshake moment is better than anything we might come up with:

"We had this debate throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was, is that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness - the American people didn't buy it. And there's a good reason the American people didn't buy it - because it doesn't make sense.

Obama noted that Venezuela's military outlays are one/six-hundreth or one six/thousandth (not sure which, but it doesn't matter) of the U.S. budget and added that, "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."

Quite the opposite.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Report: "American Made," by Nick Taylor

Writerly passion and interest can even inform a dry subject like the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

In "American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work"Nick Taylor takes what might be food for only the wonkiest among us and gives a fighting chance with those who merely like an interesting story.

Lists and data are inevitable in a book about a public works project and so we are often exposed to paragraphs detailing the 5,000 bridges built, 70,000 zillion miles of road paved, one million people vaccinated etc. etc.

Not that this is without merit. Conveying a story, Taylor must-needs wrestle with the second job of assembling an accurate historical document to support his conclusion that the ordinary folks of the WPA "proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation."

The literary calculus here entails providing a political context for the WPA narrative, a focus on some of the agency's more colorful exploits, and the depiction of a nation brought to its knees by government neglect, rather than cataloguing every single deed done.

By way of background, the WPA was the newly inaugurated Franklin Delano Roosevelt's effort to provide some of the Great Depression's many unemployed millions a job.

"American Made," enjoyed a special relevance over the past few months as the Obama administration dug deep into our pockets to finance projects that would both stimulate the economy and put idle hands to doing some long-overdue repairs all around the country.

New Deal comparison were inevitable and "The New York Times" recently reported Taylor's appearance at a Gotham conference focused on the virtues of the era.

The book makes clear that, politically, little in the United States has changed over the past 80 years or so.

In an all-too-familiar role, the Republican Party of those times choked on its own insistence all economic issues be sorted out by free market while, while its subscribers and supporters belittled WPA workers as bums looking for a handout.

Last week the highway scribe saw a bumper stick in Republican north county San Diego that read: "I voted for a hero, not a handout."

Same as it ever was.

"American Made" makes clear that, when Roosevelt could squeeze money for WPA projects out of Congress, unemployment went down and economic prosperity rose. In subsequent years, when budget balancing took precedent, the whole enchilada tanked once again.

Taylor does a nice job of fleshing out the major personality behind the WPA, administrator Harry Hopkins, whose book, "Spending to Save," serves as a perfect textual response to present day budget hawks and Bible for deficit defenders such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

But it is the stories of the little people writ large by their efforts on WPA projects that gives the book its life.

These include the story of a famed international chef reduced to assuming the cooking duties in the work camp at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

Another tells of an Appalachian women driven to the WPA rolls and charged with delivering used books on horseback to back country folk suffering as much from mental malnutrition as physical.

The recounting of John Houseman and Orson Welles launching a voodoo-infused version of MacBeth in Harlem brings to life New York culture of the time, details left-wing infiltration in Gotham's WPA branch, and shows how Republicans and Democrats alike used it as a springboard for a rollback of New Dealism, and worse, McCarthyism.

Chapters recounting terrible natural disaster impacting a beleaguered nation carry are pregnant with commentary on the importance of never wasting human desire to thrive, be useful, and live with some dignity.

These chapters attest to the potential dividends yielded by investing in human capital and to the virtue of the democratic project when it is working best.

The author smoothly lays out transitions in the political environment while successfully linking them to changes within the WPA itself.

The New Deal and the times in which it unfolded were not static, but ever ebbing and flowing. Nick Taylor's book does a fine job of capturing the personalities, the issues that moved them, the tenor and pitch of the debate surrounding.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Under Attack

Right wingers are swinging like monkeys from one extreme political label to another in an effort to bring our president down.

None of it is working, according to Jack Glaser, a Berkeley professor who told the
"San Francisco Chronicle," that this political apoplexy, or "Obama Derangement Syndrome," comes from the Democratic President's high approval ratings.

"They can't get anything to stick to him," he explained.

A cast of crazies including Glenn Beck, David Limbaugh, and the "American Spectator" have all blatantly asserted that Obama is a "fascist," according to the article by Carla Marinucci, and Joe Garafoli.

This comes on the wings of the "socialist" tag, which was big during the fall campaign and turned out to be true, not only about Obama, but a good portion of the beleaguered American electorate.

There's an old axiom that says people have the politics they can afford.

Now, just a few days ago, highwayscribery criticized Obama for his stance on the domestic spying program initiated by the Bush administration.

But we did so not because we want Obama to fail, but because we think a rigorous challenge will keep him from adopting certain repressive policies conservative pundits are eerily quiet about largely because they support them.

Nonetheless, Sean Hannity of FOX has repeatedly promised to fight Obama-inspired "tyranny." America's most important journalist, Jon Stewart, says the wing-nuts are confusing tyranny with "losing."

How sweet it is.

Media Matters, a watchdog says that, since the president's inauguration. there have been over 3,000 references to socialism, communism, or fascism, which, anybody who lived through the 1930s can tell you, are very different things.

"Defenders of Limbaugh and other conservative pundits argue that the use of such loaded criticism is hardly unique in American politics," the article said. "They note that during the previous presidential administration, pundits on the left didn't pull any punches on President George W. Bush and often resorted to equally aggressive language - though not so early in his administration."

Well, that's because, as the conservative pundits would tell you, we're "elites," with enough education to know that the Bush regime, which meticulously meshed the projects of government and big industry, demonstrated high indices of fascistic policy.

The critique was not invented to bring him down, rather an assertion that instead of serving as counterweight to corporate power, the U.S. government had become its wing man.

The conservative ranters, by contrast, "obviously have no understanding of the history of the world, of national socialism or of fascism," Cal State Sacramento poli-scientist Michael Semler told the "Chronicle."

Semler went on to say the pundits are firing blanks, but the administration seems to think differently. Or at least is wise enough not dismiss a rain of charges merely because they have no basis in reason or reality.

Yesterday the sent out an e-mail requesting money to fight their antagonists. They're asking for $25, but will take $5 or $10.

We don't know what they plan to do with the money given that they already occupy the ultimate seat of power, but they've been wise with it before

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Message, Not the Messenger

The messenger is beloved when the message is peace, freedom, equality, rights, and other byproducts of the American and French revolutions.

A lot, but not everything, that President Barack Obama does passes muster with the highwayscribery editorial board.

Take, for example, the Obama Department of Justice brief in Jewel v. National Security Agency.

For nitty gritties we suggest you visit Glenn Greenwald's blog at Salon, where he applies an unrelenting commitment to civil rights with a constitutional lawyer's training.

In broad strokes, the lawsuit represents a legal challenge to the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping policy.

By way of recap, last year Obama and other Democrats joined Republicans in passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This nefarious piece of legislation granted immunity to telecommunications companies that had complied with Bush administration requests to spy on their customers.

This provoked a howl of protest from civil libertarians. Congressional Democrats responded that the government, in spite of the FISA bill, could still be sued for its transgressions upon our rights.

Jewel put that promise to the test.

An unfortunate byproduct of our country's majestic process for transferring power is that new administrations get saddled with their predecessor's sins, and the Obama administration necessarily became the defendant in Jewel.

But rather than fold the government's defense and bless the claims of citizens legitimately asserting their constitutional right to privacy, Attorney General Eric Holder has done just the opposite...if not worse.

In requesting the lawsuit's dismissal, Holder asserts the state's "secret privilege" doctrine and attempts to repress evidence that might add meat to the plaintiff's boney claims.

It is identical to the Bush administration's posture which said: "We can't play ball in this court, because its rules require the exposure of information that threatens our national security...

..."trust us."

Holder then argues the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," which leans upon the loathsome Patriot Act and says you can't sue the government on illegal spying unless the pilfered information is made public.

Or, you can't sue the government for spying on you, unless it lets everyone know it has been spying on you.

Worse, it serves the double purpose of letting all Bush administration officials off-the-hook on these crucial constitutional questions.

Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" told Keith Olberman of "Countdown" that the Obama administration was engaged in a political calculus pitting its earliest and core supporters against the "intelligence community" in Washington.

Obama is an "outsider," Fineman explained, who needs the support of the intelligence community in waging the war on terror.

Being commander-in-chief is, apparently, not enough to get them to do their jobs.

highwayscribery does not know much about intelligence types since they sit on the other side of a deep cultural, political, and philosophical divide.

And highwayscribery can say it has about as much use for this particular "community" as it has for highwayscribery's civil rights.

That President Obama would expect anything from them by acquiescing to age-old tropisms evident in our political fabric suggests he may be as naive as some right-wingers insist.

The government could lose. The last administration did not fair well even in a federal judiciary system largely appointed by presidents named Bush, so that losing the case would also mean losing face, with Obama having sold-out his principals for no good reason.

As for the "earliest and core supporters," the scribe can claim initial membership and long-time relations in and with that particular army.

And this qualifies him to observe how people who never gave a hoot about politics came out of their ghettoes, border shacks, and coffee shops to rap, sing, write musical anthems, and put their street cred on the line for the president.

They did not prevail in the administration's formula on this issue, and they can hardly be expected to view this kind of expediency as some new politics fashioned by a unique leader for their own benefit.

Losing their energy and belief would be a real tragedy to the Obama narrative.

Of course, it was always going to be difficult conducting a "new" politics. Obama has been a doctrinaire liberal in many of his first steps and this has pleased the doctrinaire liberals among us, although it is new only to the extent such politics have been out of fashion for so long.

To date his politics have been to the left of President Bill Clinton's, but that is a product of the present political climate.

President Obama has been no more willing than Clinton to engage the right wing in a full-throated battle over a nominee or a law that is important to his supporters, always fearful of losing just one Republican Senate vote he rarely possesses in the first place.

Barack Obama seems a very successful politician, but his triumphs are in the old-style politics.

We see it in his financial plans, which not only leave the old order in place, but reward them with our money for the misery they've inflicted upon us.

We see it in the signing statement he made reserving the right to silence government whistleblowers not explicit in the legislation sent to him.

Of course, when he wins as an orthodox liberal we are glad, but the horse-trading and calculation represent a dark side to his old-school tics and the high price we pay for his doctrinaire leftism.

Perhaps this was inevitable, but the President was hired to do a special job on behalf of wronged, but hopeful, people the world over who look to him in a way they have looked to no other U.S. leader.

And this cannot be what they had in mind.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Kennedy on Poetry

Those who know the scribe personally understand how he has been guided by conflicting lights over the years: Jack Kerouac and Jack Kennedy. He has essentially chosen a path hacked out of the cultural forest by the former, but now and again allows himself a lapse into fantasy about public service so remarkable in the latter. Having lived longer in years than both, the highway scribe is now stuck with a process of self-invention for the remainder of the journey, or wondering if these choices in men-models were not ill-advised.

In any case, here are some thoughts Kennedy had about poetry from a speech given at Amherst College in honor of Robert Frost in September 1963. For one moment, at least, the President sounds a little something like Kerouac.

It ran in an issue of the “Atlantic Monthly” from whence it was transcribed.

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us...

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones for our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time...

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him...

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation...

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Psychedelic Surfer (reprint)

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love colored the black flag of anarchy rainbow tutti-frutti.

And it may not have considered itself such, but an excellent article in the July 2007 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.