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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

katrina: what the meaning of we is

It's the most basic thing: Us. We.

It has manifested itself in thousands of ways over the last few days, including untold tales of sacrifice and courage, of despair and loss, and it will manifest itself in thousands of ways in the days and weeks to come.

When push comes to shove, the most basic question you ask yourself when faced with another person in need....are they a part of my "we"...are they included in the scope of my compassion...will I extend myself, will I risk myself, for them?

In the aftermath of Katrina, it's clear that we are in this together. One look at the Gulf Coast, at the message boards searching for the missing, at the footage of children STILL being rescued from rooftops in New Orleans...and all of us can see the our 'we' is going to be tested and stretched in the days and months to come. A time will come when the enormity of what's been lost will be clear.

All that talk about no one ever asking us to sacrifice after 9/11, well, now's the time we're all going to have to start. Believe it. Katrina will have enormous unforeseen consequences we are just beginning to understand, and, let's face it, our government is scrambling just to talk in complete sentences.

You see, we're in this together, and we're all going to have to sacrifice and admit mistakes if we're going to see this through to the other side.

Someone better tell the President.

information and analysis

  • Dancing Larry has a sobering report up speculating on the fate of Plaquemines Parish at the very end of Louisiana
  • DHinMI leads a good discussion at the Next Hurrah that includes Meteor Blades; don't miss this post either.
  • PBS News Hour was excellent today. Watch it on TV if at all possible, (I don't think it's availible online.) The British reporter's work from Gulfport and Biloxi is the best on-the-ground coverage of this I've seen
  • The Weather Channel has a comprehensive set of photos
  • Billmon finally sources the Led Zeppelin song everyone's been quoting (not me, though....let's leave it at that) and writes a brilliant forward-thinking, well-researched post.
  • There is something deeply amiss in this story from the Mississippi Sun Herald. (thanks to colinb at dailykos.com)
  • BBC reporter Alistair Leithead in New Orleans, BBC TV (generic link, but has good stuff), reports that there are many dead bodies floating in the city of New Orleans, and that there are still many trapped in houses there. He also notes that Air Force One was visible as it passed overhead, tilting and flying low over the city.

  • One note: Governor Blanco's press conference on NewsHour had a kind of alarming undertext. It's clear that when a governor is pleading and sounding exasperated and put out, that there's a drastic need for leadership here. Simply put, this disaster is beyond the resources of any local municipal or state official to deal with. The scope of this disaster is huge.

    Even if the they can't act immediately, it is critical that our Federal government project leadership and promise that all available means will be brought to bear in New Orleans and Gulf Coast. Believe it or not, leadership is as much about that as anything. That is the essential first step, and today's Presidential press conference did not cut it.

    Someone with vision and leadership needs to stand up and soon. In this time of need, our President has failed us.

    update from New Orleans

    Word from friends in NYC is that our friend Kiersta is indeed among the physicians caring for patients at the flooded Charity Hospital in New Orleans right now. There's no power (ventilators are being operated by hand pump) no food and little water. Their job is simply keeping their patients alive until they can be evacuated. Word is that the full evacuation of the hospital will take days.

    Kier, our thoughts are with you and your patients right now. Be safe.

    pressure on

    I agree with the basic premise that the best thing that us non-specialist citizens in other parts of the country can do is give money and support to organizations that have the training and resources to help. That being said, part of our advocacy for the victims of Katrina has got to be putting pressure on our leaders and the media, has got to be pushing for accountability.

    We need to hold the President's feet to the fire right now. Doing political photo ops while a major U.S. city floods is despicable. Doing photo ops while the destruction and loss of life in Mississippi and Louisiana was still unkown is simply unforgiveable. (And now he's got a fake relief photo on the White House web site banner.)

    If, as initial reports have it, FEMA has been weakened and rolled into Homeland Security...we need to demand accountability. FEMA is a good program. It works. The citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi need FEMA right now, and will need the kind of support FEMA provides in the weeks and months to come. If it's been rolled into Homeland Security....then exactly WHO is the point person here? Where is the aid coming from? The response at this point seems to be ad hoc...ie. they're making it up as they go.

    We've suffered a major natural disaster. Who is the point person for our federal government? What were the contingency plans for this "top three" disaster, a disaster whose risks FEMA had highlighted and identified since before 9/11? As far as I know, aside from the President's statement, given at a press meetup on Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld is the only figure to have spoken out. Why is that? Who is the leader here? Is it Michael Chertoff? To be frank, that article doesn't make it clear.

    If you ask me, the charge that holding governement accountable is playing politics with this disaster is baseless. Holding government accountable is our best means of advocating for the victims of this disaster right now. It's what democracy is about. There are many reasons we have a Federal Government. Dealing with a massive, natural disaster spread over multiple states, and whose impact will most certainly be felt by the whole country is one of them.

    It's time to put pressure on.

    The politics charge is galling. This President and the GOP have played politics with the national tragedy of 9/11 from the get go. There's no escaping that. And they've played politics with this nation in less visible ways that we will pay a price for, and which will play out in this story.

    Let me give one significant example. The President refuses to even speak to the NAACP. He routinely pushes aside chances to meet with black leaders, and when he does it's on demeaning terms. If you don't speak in the easy times, if you don't meet when the pressure is low, if you play politics...then you don't build trust and good faith. The President, who is after all, the President of ALL OF US, will need that trust and good faith in dealing with this tragedy and its aftermath...in particular with members of the African American community displaced from New Orleans. The President doesn't have that good faith because he has never invested in it. He's played politics all along..

    Why does the Mayor of New Orleans sound like no one is getting in touch with him? This is clearly a disaster far beyond municipal abilities alone to handle. I would think we'd hear Mayor Nagin saying he's getting cooperation and coordination from outside the city, from the President himself. We're not.

    We need to put pressure on the government and the media (whose coverage of this disaster has been atrocious). Accountability is the best means we have of advocacy for Katrina's victims.

    There's no "grace period" where watching our President strum guitars while a city drowns is OK for a few days. That kind of leadership is simply unacceptable.

    We need to put pressure on, and keep it there.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    the news and the heartbreak

    My friends Justin and Kiersta are physicians in New Orleans...I have no idea if they stayed, or left...my emails have been bounced back, and I'm not about to call, knowing the futility of that. My friends Marc and Katie and their children Hazel and Isaac....I am most certain are not in NO, but they have a home there, they live there and work there...I can't help but think of them tonight.

    I've met so many good people in New Orleans. Had so many truly special experiences there. I feel such a debt of love and gratitude to that city. And I feel tonight, reading the news that the levees are breaking and the situation is growing worse...like I have a pit in my stomach. As if...like someone else pointed out elsewhere today...we are watching the World Trade Centers fall in slow motion, again, for a second time.

    That young girl, in the basket, getting lifted up to the helicopter. The dad carrying his child out onto the roof top. Those are powerful images to me. I want every life to be saved...like if we could have reached those people on the top floors of the towers before they fell, if we could have found a way. And yet, I know that won't happen. Just like on 9/11...there will be people trapped, powerless to escape, and we will lose them...we are losing them now.

    That seventy year old woman I danced with at Tipitinas...where is she tonight? Those kids in the pick up band off Louis Armstrong Park? The families strolling on St. Charles that spring day? That waitress from the Praline Pecan, and her smile? Where are they now?

    Where are our living legends? Our musical greats? Where are the gutter punks and the antique store owners? Where's the recovering junkie I played ping pong with in that book store off Magazine street? Where are the kids from Kermit Ruffin's place with their red beans and rice? The skinny waiter from Cafe du Monde?

    If you get to know New Orleans...you come to love it. Especially if you have a taste for musty, disorderly, gothic things....for oh-so-very-human cities. So much of who we are as Americans flows to us directly from New Orleans. Louis Armstrong. Jazz. Andrew Jackson. William Faulkner. Anne Rice. Memory of the slave trade. Memory of a time when America was not so Anglo, nor so puritan, nor so uptight. A direct link to the Caribbean. A direct link to Africa. And I would say...a direct link to our true selves.

    It's hard not to feel, in the almost casual take of the media, that if this city wasn't the home to so much of our African-American heritage that they wouldn't be talking about looting and "folks who chose to stay against orders" tonight. That they would have a sense of shame and the magnitude of the loss.

    Writing here from Oakland tonight, I can't help but feel for all of our brothers and sisters...for all those folks on the whole Gulf Coast. I hope the helicopters, boats and buses come to take the thousands left behind to safety. I feel for them, just like I imagine you do, wherever you are reading this.

    We love you New Orleans. And tonight there's nothing but tears.


    the enormity of it

    The enormity of it is just coming clear. Hurricane Katrina visited a devastation upon Louisiana and Mississippi..and the cities of New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport...a devastation whose breadth and scope we are just beginning to understand.

    With news of people being emergency-evacuated from the rooftops of flooded homes in the city of New Orleans as we speak, and startling death tolls emerging from Biloxi and Gulfport, we can only be grateful that so many heeded the warnings of local officials and evacuated the Gulf Coast. We must remain apprehensive about what will be the ultimate loss of life, and immediately concerned about those left in the city, its hospitals and hotels, and the thousands now effectively trapped in the Super Dome.

    As it stands, an entire American city has been evacuated...and hundreds of thousands of its citizens are unsure about when, and if, they will be able to return to their homes, or the health and safety of their friends and loved ones who stayed behind. This is a disaster on a huge scale, and should be treated as such.

    Yes, we should keep these folks in our thoughts and send them help according to the measure of our means....but we should also resolutely and stoutly be advocates on their behalf over the next days, weeks and months. These are our brothers and sisters....fellow Americans, citizens of this land...like you or me.

    We need to stand with them, citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi...and the residents of New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport....with the surety that they would stand with us if the tables were turned, and with the knowledge that our advocacy on their behalf is the least thing we can do to help friends and fellow Americans in their time of need.

    Update: accountability goes hand in hand with advocacy. Try this well-researched diary by ghfactor on dailykos or this photo essay by stopgeorge, at dkos as well, for the other half of this equation. Where is the leadership here? Where and when will the President step up his rhetoric, and step out front here? It's a valid question, even as we all dig in to help....and our priorities remain directed to that front. Accountability is a part of advocacy. By holding George Bush accountable and demanding greater leadership, we help the victims of Katrina.

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    open thread

    Leave a comment, make my night.

    Oh, and ear fuzz is in fine form. Cool stuff for everyone.

    {Update: Hmmm. I dare you not to laugh. Check out this story in the Onion. thanks to Words have Power.}


    Puente, which means 'bridge' in Spanish, is the name of an innovative, successful, and award winning California program directed at getting kids from under-represented communities into college and making sure they succeed there by using mentoring, parental involvement, targeted skill-building and counseling that follows them from early high school into their college years.

    Puente serves as a powerful counter-example, a progressive model, that actually does what 'No Child Left Behind' was meant to do. It's a program that succeeds because it uses an approach rooted in progressive values: it empowers young citizens and gives them tools and skills they need rather than simply using testing as a hurdle to that success, what I would call the "failure model" of the GOP. Puente takes kids where they are at, in community, and provides mentoring and teacher support that walks along side them and engages them every step of the way to become successful citizens.

    Puente students in California do well on the statewide A-G requirements we ask of our high school students. They are also better prepared for post-secondary education because they've spent their entire teen years honing the skills they'll need to succeed. Further, these young men and women stay in school and stick with the program because they've visualized the goal of attending college and received pragmatic and personal support for that vision. As a graduate of an urban public high school, let me say, both aspects are essential, the practical skill-building and the community support of one's ideals.

    If you can't imagine yourself succeeding, you most likely won't. Where the GOP uses fear of failure as motivation, Puente helps students visualize success and hone in on the practical skills that get them there.

    What's perverse, however, is that the GOP push for federal and state-wide testing, including efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger here in California, is being used as a rationale to try to jusitfy cutting the budgets of programs like Puente. That's something to think about and to organize around.

    Simply put, we progressives need to stand up for our innovators and for the ways in which pragmatic implementation of our values yields success. We need to stand up for our teachers and our kids.

    Of course, our best argument for programs like Puente, is the success of the kids themselves: young citizens to whom the future of the country belongs.

    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    god save new orleans

    Booman has it right.

    We're thinking of you, New Orleans....and I'm thinking of everyone I know down there right now, this is frightening and serious, I hope you all are safe....know that we're ready to help.

    {If you're still up and checking the news and need a distraction, there's an interesting multi-culti discussion at pop licks about "kill whitey" parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn ie.white kids spoofing black culture / themselves. Worth a read.}

    the FDA stonewalls

    Robin, from Girl in the Locker Room, sends this NYT article on the FDA's footdragging on 'Plan B' or, 'the Morning After Pill.'

    This pill is a safe and effective way for women to prevent an unwanted pregnancy if conventional contraception has failed. The FDA is, by law, required to give a rationale for approving or dissapproving its "over-the-counter" availabilty at some point. GOP obstruction at the FDA sends a clear message: they're letting their right-wing religious base control and stall the approval of this pill.

    The abortion opponents in George Bush's base see this pill as tantamount to abortion. In their view, every woman should, by law, be required to take even a potential pregnancy to full term from the moment of conception. In this instance, they oppose the use of a pill that is medically nothing more than a concentrated dose of conventional birth control, and which would act in much the same way: a pill whose widespread availability would likely reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

    Most Americans wouldn't agree with that view. Most Americans don't want Pat Robertson to have a say in their health care. But that's exactly what's happening right now.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    saturday night with dj soulsister

    Try this radio program from WWOZ in New Orleans for your musical link tonight: DJ Soulsister.

    {Update: when I wrote this piece I wasn't aware of the Hurricane bearing down on New Orleans right now. My thoughts go out to everyone on the Gulf Coast. Be safe.}

    Proposition 73

    Proposition 73 is a ballot initiative that would change the Constitution of the State of California making "Parental Notification" a requirement for young women seeking abortion from their health care providers. It will pass if it receives 50% 'plus one' of the vote on November 8th.

    Fellow Californian, Malacandra, in a comment responding to my "this blog is your blog" diary on dKos, used Proposition 73 to highlight the ways in which coalition is never perfect:

    "...[H]ere in California, we've got - in my opinion - 6 ballot initiatives that need to die a death. There's an alliance of unions that is well organized to combat... 5 of them. The one they aren't taking on is Prop 73, which requires parental consent for teens seeking an abortion. This proposition would amend the Constitution of California, which neatly skirts any constitutional challenges we might have tried in the courts if this passed. I think this is a serious erosion of women's rights in this state, and I get so livid about it that I can't speak... and it pisses me off that one of our best allies in fighting Arnold's initiatives... is giving this one a pass.

    This is one circumstance, but it illustrates how all coalitions are imperfect. We can waste a lot of time bickering among ourselves about a solidarity and alignment of opinion that will never come, or accept the fact that we're not always on the same page... and work together on our shared objectives. And also fully realize that we'll more than occassionally stumble over each other's toes too.

    I'm not able to change what these unions have chosen to do, but I can work with those who want to help me beat Prop 73 as well as those going after 74 thru 78."

    This strikes me as right on, and productively honest. (And I hear the underlying criticism of my post at dKos as well...if you believe in coalition you have to walk and talk like it, and that's not always easy.)

    Proposition 73 is wrong for California:

  • wrong for our young women, especially the vulnerable ones who need privacy most
  • wrong because it's being pushed by folks with an agenda who want to write their religion into our government
  • wrong because we should not amend our constitution to take away rights
  • and wrong because it was written with anti-abortion language that spills over into the realm of contraception, something all of us want our teenagers to have access to.

  • The bottom line is that California teenagers should have the right to reproductive health care and privacy. Our teens should be safe, whatever the state of their relationship to their parents or peers. You can't legislate a communicative relationship between a parent and a child, even though most families DO have good communication and talk about the important things. This iniative isn't even meant to do that, and couldn't if it tried. It's a divisive attempt to rewrite our laws according to a religious agenda.

    At the same time, it's fair to point out that the NARAL website I linked to above does represent the other side of the failure in the divide between Labor and choice activists here. NARAL's language and take isn't broad enough, in my view; they come off as preaching to the choir. But that doesn't mean NARAL doesn't deserve support...they are right on this one....what they need is allies. NARAL needs coalition, like all of us do, which is what Malacandra was getting at.

    {Update: JaninSanFran provides this valuable link to the California Nurses Association's "Stop Arnold" page. The nurses are pushing a "no" across the board that includes 73.}

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    at work today

    I stopped to ask the security guard about the book he was reading. It was a book about the history of Black soldiers in the U.S. military.

    I asked him if he had been in the service.

    He said, "Yes, 22 years, two wars...Korea....and Viet Nam."

    I asked him if he felt Korea was a "forgotten war."

    He frowned and replied, "You know, too many people died for it to be forgotten. But, yes, our country wasn't ready for it. We were just coming out of the last war. Folks weren't behind it...like today."

    At this, he paused and sized me up.

    "I don't like what's going on today. Too many good kids have died. Too many kids are amputees." He motioned to both his arms and chopped them at the elbows. "Folks don't know what that's like. Most amputees never get a good job, never really recover. You can't know that if you haven't seen it."

    He paused again, and looked me in the eye.

    "I agree with this woman down there in Texas. She's right. We should bring those kids home right now."

    At that, my co-worker caught up to me...I nodded to the guard, and he back at me...and I stepped inside.

    sonny rollins

    I like Way Out West.

    Stanley Crouch said live was Rollins best.

    He was great with Monk on Brilliant Corners or playing with the Max Roach Quintet

    Of course, maybe this 6th grader said it better than the rest.

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    put me down for a t-shirt

    I laugh at people who don't realize they've jumped the shark.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    dog eared books

    I was walking down Valencia today and noticed these little cards in the window at dog eared books.

    They were like funeral cards I remember from growing up Catholic, except they were hand-drawn and featured the faces of people who've died in the last year or so...and a bit about their life, their birth and death dates, and some words.

    Thom Gunn, Susan Sontag, Edward Said, and many other folks whose names I didn't immediately recognize. Some political, some artistic...all believers in human liberation on some level.

    I stepped inside to ask who the artist was...what the project was...and the gal behind the counter told me that the artist's name was Veronica, that she was in New York now, that she just added them slowly as people died...and that I'd have to come back and ask Alvin for her last name and story....scribble, scribble....

    What struck me was the vision she managed to capture in the faces with her labored and careful ink work. Like these folks were all still looking out, in death, at the project that they had committed their lives to. Like there was still something burning inside...an inner meaning...that they were asking us to think about, to visualize, to embody, to remember.

    Worth a stop if you're strolling in the neighborhood.

    cracks in the walls of the citadel

    The "hidden meaning" of the Pat Robertson comment has nothing to do with Hugo Chavez.

    It has everything to do with the war in Iraq, the price of gas, and the public mood of Bush's base.

    You see...by saying "it would be a heck of a lot cheaper" to assassinate Chavez than go to war with Venezuela, what Robertson was really admitting was: the cost of the war in Iraq, in terms of dollars and lives lost, has been too high.

    Even the most staunch members of Bush's base have doubts about the quagmire in Iraq swimming around in their brains...so much so, comments like Robertson's just slip out sometimes...especially when they get to thinking about our dependence on foreign oil and the price of gas.

    I guarantee you that is what BushCo. took from Robertson's words...what gave them pause. (You don't think they seriously care what Roberston's wacky opinions about foreign policy are, do you?) They do care how Robertson reflects the mood of their base.

    You see, GOP support is like a citadel. It's monolithic and built with thick, almost impermeable walls. All sorts of things can "look bad" if you're a Republican....and you can shrug it off.

    This isn't the first time Robertson's run his mouth. It's not the first time the President has taken a long vacation in the midst of a war. It's not the first time gas prices have climbed higher than most Americans' comfort level. It's not the first time Bush has faced a grieving mother.

    But it is the first time all of this has happened with cracks in the walls of the citadel. And all of these issues have begun to hit home when they wouldn't have previously. It means something that one last wave of National Guard members are getting called up...sending men and women with families and jobs they will leave behind to go fight in Bush's war in Iraq.

    The "citadel" voted for Bush overwhelmingly in 2004. The GOP base saved his ass. Yet, in the lead up to the vote last November, just over one thousand Americans had lost their lives in Iraq; today that total stands at 1871 dead in this war. You could interpret Robertson's comments as simply being about the lives lost in Iraq, about the cost of the war; I'm not so sure about that.

    You see, the other thing Robertson was doing in taking on Chavez, in talking about Venezuela...was talking about the price of gasoline.

    Listen to his words. Ask yourself...why? Why now? Why Venezuela? The whole thing is a fantasy based on the idea we might invade another oil-rich nation á la Saddam Hussein's Iraq....a fantasy based on folks' very real concerns about the United States' supply of oil...and our very real dependence on foreign oil to make our gasline.

    Robertson's comments, like the cracks in the walls of the citadel, have everything to do with the price of gas. And it's hard not to see that as a stark statement of where the moral yardstick of our nation has been moved. At the end of the day, lives lost in Iraq hurt the President less than "pain at the pump" at home.

    If you ask me, Pat Robertson just told us everything we need to know about George Bush and the citadel that surrounds him.


    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    labor letter

    There's a major strike on right now.

    Management spent over a hundred million dollars training replacement workers...who may be hired permanently, and vetted it's union-breaking plan with the White House, whose approval of the work of the replacement workers is a cornerstone keeping operations running during the strike.

    Some folks are predicting that how this strike plays out will drastically affect the fate of labor in this country.

    Now, you don't hear much talk about this story on the blogs. (I guess that means it isn't really important news, huhn?)

    Too bad for those suckers who showed up to work for fifteen years. They helped repair thirty or so planes I've flown on. Maybe a few you did too. I guess if they were smart they would have taken their training, commitment and experience...and become "replacement workers."

    Hell, maybe we all should do just that. That would solve everything, and get rid of this stupid "union" issue for good...you know...and let us all get back to the important things, like politics...and blogging.


    Monday, August 22, 2005

    letter from an urban democrat: a vote for dennis

    When I walked into the ballot booth on Alcatraz Avenue on March 2nd, 2004 to cast my vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary, a vote that was, at the point, pretty moot, I stood as one vote among the 198,312 voters who cast ballots in the Democratic Presidential Primary that day.

    Home to Berkeley, Oakland and many other equally urban, but less well known cities, Alameda County is one of the most Democratic counties in the nation. When we do GOTV in Oakland, the percentage goals on the wall hover around 80%. In this, we are similar to the majority of ethnically diverse, urban locales in the United States. We vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

    I voted for Dennis Kucinich.

    It was an "anti-war, pro-Labor, don't-forget-the-little guy" vote on principle. And I was proud to share that vote with a good friend and cafe buddy of mine with whom I had at times bitterly disagreed over Ralph Nader in the past. We smiled over coffee that day at our newfound alliance, and the message we sent.

    However, we were but two votes, among....18,443 Kucinich voters...in Alameda County (pdf). That's 9.2% of the total. (For reference: Kerry had 63%, Edwards 17%, Howard Dean got 4.3%...Al Sharpton 3%.)

    I draw two lessons from this.

    First, I'd like to argue that, even though this was what some people would call a "meaningless" primary, since the larger outcome was already clear. (We all know that there would have been more votes for Dean and Edwards if the contest had still been "live.") The votes for Kucinich were real. They describe something that I've seen in previous elections here.

    Highly motivated, left "message" voters...people who will vote for a left candidate that they know is going to lose...are about 10-20% of the voters even here one of the most progressive counties in the country.

    I think that's significant. Not simply because I seem to have spent half my personal political life debating and arguing with exactly those voters....damn, what a motivated, opinionated bunch we are! But also because it gives some perspective as to the real nature of what it means to be an urban Democrat.

    You see, just because one might "think" that the urban constituency shares the exact same liberal values that would lead one to vote for....Dennis Kucinich...or Al Sharpton...or cast a 'spirit vote' for Howard Dean or Carol Mosely Braun (she got 1%) even after they had pulled out. Truth is, most urban Democrats...are Democrats. Old school. Plain and simple. Tried and true. Pragmatic and common sense.

    That's something to consider when we think about the city. And when we blog. The cities are not so stereotypically "hard core" liberal, read "Birkenstock blogger", as most people think. I'd love to share with you what it's like to do GOTV in Oakland...the preponderance of "regular folks"..folks with gospel singing on their answering machines...or with religious phone messages...or with gruff "old guy" voices...is quite high, overwhelmingly so.

    And that brings me to my second point. We "urban democrats" represent the most highly concentrated voters in the country. Both literally, in that we live in the highest population density areas. But also in the fact that our urban districts represent the most concentrated doses of voters for either party anywhere. The GOP tends to win by smaller margins, in more, and more geographically spread out places. And that, in a nutshell, describes one of the core challenges facing the Democratic party today.

    If you could, let's say, sprinkle our "over supply" of Democrats from urban districts over the rest of the nation, or redistrict us into shared urban/suburban districts, you might see a drastic change in election outcomes, especially in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Why do I mention this? I think the 'standard notion,' the 'working stereotype' of urban Democrats needs to be rethought and retooled. We need to break out of the boxes we tend to think in...be it race, ethnicity, class or any "easy concept" really. We as a party need to do a lot harder work 'rebranding' and integrating urban Demcratic consituencies into the rest of the nation and into the rest of our party. In sum, we need tor break down the walls that keep our voters locked in the cities...literally, politically and ideologically. We need to, as a party, redistrict our soul...so that we end up, finally, sitting in the same room because, at the end of the day, we belong there

    In my view, we need to take a hard look at cities and realize that these voters...our core voters...share SO MANY concerns with our neighbors in the suburbs and small towns. What would it take for us to make this much more clear...as a party, and in how we communicate with the nation as a whole? If you ask me, that is exactly the message that Senator Barack Obama has brought to our party. Are we ready for it?

    And finally, yes, the notion of the 'urban liberal' needs to be rethought.

    You see, it's important to me that while I voted for Dennis Kucinich in the primaries....my neighbors, overwhelmingly voted for John Kerry and John Edwards....just like Democrats everywhere in the country. That means something to me, both in how I should talk about the values that led me to vote for Kucinich...but, more importantly, in how I should think about the politics of my neighbors. How I should seek to understand...just like I wanted them to understand the meaning of my vote....what the message of their vote was to me.


    california update

  • Arnold gets ready to rumble...rrr...tumble...???
  • CA Supreme Court decision defines equal rights / responsibilties for same sex couples in custody cases.
  • This LA Times story on a governement investigation of prison gangs for terror links bears watching...
  • Employment up....
  • In memoriam.
  • Sunday, August 21, 2005

    thread of open mindedness

    nanu nanu, earthlings:

  • Where is Karl Rove and what was he thinking about this weekend? Murray Waas is always good for updates...will there be one soon?
  • What's the news from Iraq today? Juan Cole and the war in context already have Monday posts up.
  • John Roberts?.....check out this article in Monday's New York Times. Must read....with "infuriating story that makes Dems look bad" alert given.

  • Idle open thread question: Why do we bloggers so often move in a pack? Is it because we're news junkies with typewriters?

    Dunno, you tell me.

    frank rich: blogger

    Dear New York Times:

    Please keep all of your content available to all of us here online in the week it comes out. (note: They're making editorial content paid subscription only in a few weeks.)

    You see, when we get op-ed pieces like Frank Rich's The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan, we bloggers want to share it, to link to it, to spread the word.

    That's the funny thing about the truth, it wants to be free. And, as you well know, we on the blogs like to give the truth a kick in the pants and get it out there. Frank Rich's words deserve the widest possible audience because they represent an opinion, a voice, and a consensus figure of opposition.

    And when we see that Rich's editorial itself is hyperlinking to other pieces, to other locations....just like every single one of us bloggers does...isn't that a candid admission....that if not an outright "blogger"...Frank Rich's words, his op-ed piece, is caught up, like all of the content on the blogs, in a much larger web of inter-connectedness?

    Dear NYT, the truth wants to be free. You're headed in the wrong direction.

    Turn around and join us.


    sunday coffee: late summer edition

  • Relentlessly uncovering the hidden history of our times....wendell gee and awol serve up a must-read political piece on the Roberts nomination today at Cartel of Defiance...it may seem like a puzzle at first, but, dig in and follow the links, and you'll see, as always, it's relevant and spot on.
  • Billmon is back at it with two posts on Iraq, both essential reading.
  • Ellen Willis has a thoughtful, and personal, appreciation of Susan Sontag in New Politics
  • Did I mention that Body and Soul is great today?...Well, now I did.

  • Soul Strut is the new music link today...try Clutchin' Gems...a Denver-based dj's hour-long mix on Real Player. Worth it.
  • k/o now sports an Oakland-themed sidebar....I recommend checking out oaklandish and favianna to catch some small part of the flavor of my home town.

  • {the blog network is still getting blogspot-related spam...as have the comments sections from time to time. argh. bear with me.}

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    minneapolis 1984: mcpunks

    "They can raid this corner all they want, but we're here to stay. We are city kids and the city is where we want to be."

    A. Slater, 19, Minneapolis, 1984

    The McDonalds at Hennepin and Lagoon in Minneapolis was home...for a brief window of years in the 80's...to a tiny movement of kids who got called mcpunks.

    We might have even called ourselves that...though I wouldn't much know because I was younger and more of a hanger-on than anything else...

    What unified the mcpunks was the fact that we were too young to go most shows, we had time on our hands, we were into punk music and the rebellion it stood for...and not much else. You could get to Hennepin and Lagoon easily by bus...and the Uptown theater across the street showed double features like: Buckaroo Bonzai and Repo Man.....Wizards and Lord of the Rings. There was a coffee shop that served espresso on the first floor...and hard-drinking rockers could be seen there in black leather and torn black hoodies and black jeans at all hours of the day.

    We were across the street. At McDonalds. We were all under twenty.

    I don't think we were welcome...but the accomodations weren't exactly in high demand...a beat-up outdoor playground with a few picnic tables surrounded by spiked metal bars that got locked up at night.

    You could hang out there and just meet people and talk. We'd talk about shows, about bands, about records...about life and politics and stuff. Minneapolis, at the time I started hanging out, had just received a visit from the Dead Kennedys...and that show, more than anything, galvanized a ton of kids to go punk....to rebel...to join punk's second wave. There were also kids who were out for trouble regardless of the music or the times. Like all of us, they came and went.

    Now, the punk music club, First Avenue, would try to do a few all ages shows every month or so for the youth...and it didn't really matter the band, it could be Black Flag, it could have been Bad Brains it could be Flock of Seagulls....we'd all show up (okay, uh, not so many showed for Flock of Seagulls...but, hey, I'm not proud...I was there.) There was something cool about how, in this seemingly big city, you'd leave your neighborhood or suburb and end up someplace where you were surrounded by other kids like you, kids you recognized...you went from feeling like a freak to feeling like you were a part of something, a movement.

    There was a spirit in the air, and it had managed to filter through to the heartland: Punk. Oppositional culture. Reggae. Independent music and radio. People talked politics. They rode skateboards and changed the way they dressed. People circulated videos of the scene from different parts of the country. Tapes from Mabuhay Gardens. CBGBs. Washington DC. LA. We tuned into community radio to listen to Maximum Rock 'n Roll. And it was political: punk asked questions about diet and consumerism, about government, about personal freedom, about racism and poverty, about sexuality and chemical dependency, about commercialism and hype. It got kids talking and writing and photocopying....it got kids making music.

    But there was one common theme...resisting the status quo...fighting back against Ronnie Reagan and his buddy George Bush. The odds seemed insurmountable...but that didn't matter to us. It never does to kids.

    Now, we mcpunks were the 'little kiddies' of a much broader punk scene. But we were happy to be a small part of the furniture in the room. And since we were new and since the kids messing around with crime and drugs hadn't yet permanently labelled the culture with the "gutter punk" moniker that seems to have hardened into a "fix"ture...literally and sadly...on our streets to this day, we were also a visible reminder to our city that kids were unhappy with things. We were fed up. And our hanging out at this crossroads sent that message. To paraphrase the Replacements, a band that seemed not much older than us....the kids won't follow.

    (If you like the Replacements...follow that link...and watch the video of Johnny's Gonna Die...trust me.)

    I don't know what got me thinking about this...other than to reflect on how innocent this oppositional culture was, how available and pure it was if you sought it out. And at times, how reviled. Hell, I used to get chided by older folks in St. Paul just walking down the street with my hair uncombed or my shoes "untied"....and I was a nice boy.

    Things have changed. On some level...as stupid as the whole idea of the 'mcpunks' was...there was also something to it. Something real and alive. I find myself thinking about that right now. The question of what young folks are doing and thinking...of where the punk spirit of our times resides...where it points...and where the kids are hanging out because they have to, because they've got no place else to go. It's an active question, one prone to romanticizing...but, in my experience, nevertheless, it's a question essential to understanding this moment in history, and vital to understanding the social and political movements that might arise to change and challenge it.

    Yeah, in this, I sound like just another wistful old punk...laugh out loud....I'm not that old, and I never was a pure punk. But, like the rest of you, young and old, I've still got my eyes and ears open, and that's what really matters.

    In honor of that...here's what proved to be a prescient lyric from the Replacements. It's from their 1984 album Let it Be: (you can hear a sample at the link, or even, uh, buy the thing from their original indie label, Twin/Tone, it's worth it.)

    Here come Dick, he's wearing a skirt
    Here comes Jane, y'know she's sporting a chain
    Same hair, revolution
    Same build, evolution
    Tomorrow who's gonna fuss

    And they love each other so
    Closer than you know, love each other so

    Don't get him wrong and don't get him mad
    He might be a father, but he sure ain't a dad
    And she don't need advice that's sent at her
    She's happy with the way she looks
    She's happy with her gender

    Mirror image, see no damage
    See no evil at all
    Kewpie dolls and urine stalls
    Will be laughed at
    The way you're laughed at now

    Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl
    They both look the same
    They're overjoyed in this world
    Same hair, revolution
    Unisex, evolution
    Tomorrow who's gonna fuss
    And tomorrow Dick is wearing pants
    And tomorrow Janie's wearing a dress
    Future outcasts and they don't last
    And today, the people dress the way that they please
    The way they tried to do in the last centuries

    And they love each other so
    Closer than you know, love each other so

    That was the world we were trying to make and, in some ways, an "ideal vision" of the world we aspired to. You wouldn't get many folks to say it at the time, but punk rebellion, behind the anger and the front, was always about justice and equality...and a radical vision of a society where individual freedom, and, yes, love, were the governing operating principles that bound us together, or let us stand apart.

    Paul Westerberg, a truly wise soul, knew this...and he was spot on in asking "tommorrow who's gonna fuss?" about cross-gender styles and punk fashion...he seemed to know, in 1984, how little fussing we were actually in for.

    You see, in my view, it was a love of equality, the equality of love and a hunger for justice, not the hair styles and the posture, that, at the end of the day, was at the heart of punk.


    real compassion

    Yesterday Terry Gross interviewed Dr. Jerald Winakur, a geriatric care physician specializing in the ethics of compassionate end-of-life care.

    Here's a man who deals with something that our society hides from: old age and death, every day...and has found ways to talk about these realities that are wise and inspiring. Listening to him describe the story of taking the car keys away from his father is poignant and, somehow, unexpectedly full of insight.

    You see, Dr. Winakur is able to contextualize...in a society riven by self-interest and "fake" compassion...the decision to stop driving (or in his father's case, the non-decision) within the idea of being an ethical member of society. He makes clear to his patients that the choice to do something that feels like "denial" and "retreating from the world"...is also a deeply compassionate act on the part of the older person making that choice...and act that actually binds them to that world and places them in it.

    This is a wise and compassionate man. You won't regret listening to this piece if you haven't already. He's also written an article in Health Affairs entitled What are we going to do with Dad? that tells the same story.

    If you think that forthright honesty has "power"...you'll appreciate this article: worth a read.

    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    meta matters

    Ok, I'm going to write about this blog a little bit. Forgive me.

    This new blog has a small / healthy / robust / devoted group of readers who come back and read on a regular basis. I am grateful for every last one one of you...and I understand that you read and participate, or not, at your own pleasure...and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    One salient result of the size and intimacy of this blog is that I don't feel like bullshitting, and I don't intend to.

    Starting k/o has been eye-opening.

    I launched not with any deliberate timing but because, literally, wendell gee, myshkin and awol (friends you may know from dKos) accosted me after a dinner party at awol's house and insisted that I start a blog now. That was four weeks ago. What you've seen here is the result of that prodding, and I owe a debt of gratitude to them for their continued help and support. (Now if I could only get them to comment here more often...)

    At any rate, up to that point, though I was a "blog reader" and a participant at dailykos...I didn't know squat about how "blogging" really works outside of dKos. It shows.

    I'm catching some heavy drift.

    For one, while having what I consider a shockingly successful...and truly rewarding...launch these last weeks...I've definitely got a sense that I'm making a fresh start, and that I should make a fresh start with all that phrase entails.

    I'm going to flub up, make mistakes, try shit out and experiment. But you knew that already. I know I need to learn how to make friends and win respect and readers....and that's a good thing. I don't take anything for granted.

    I intend to keep a sense of humor and openess about things...so please always feel free to tell me what you think. I'm all ears.

    My main goal is to give you good content that lives up to your readership with a minimum of hype, bs and ulterior motives. That may seem an 'obvious' statement. But I mean it. I want to do with k/o, what I tried to do writing as "kid oakland" elsewhere...which is simply to stay true to myself and to my politics.

    The best answer I can give to someone who wonders what that 'politics' is...is simply to say, look at what I've done and written and look at what I'm doing now. That's my politics. I hope k/o helps make this clear.

    This blog is not the end of the matter for me. I'm interested in participating in community blogs, and will continue to do so. Heck, I'd like to see more community blogs form. There's plenty of "space" that is underserved right now. We'll just have to see.

    (Please, point me to anything....news, blogs, sites, essays, music you think I might find interesting: kidoaklandatcomcastdotnet......or drop a comment!)

    For now, clearly, I'm here, and, at times, overwhelmed.

    You see, on a practical note...I work...in photography...and often work long days to make a living in this cruel world of ours. (I'm kidding, I love what I do.) Due to this "working" thing, I just won't have content that rocks anyone's world every single day. I'll try my best, and trust that you know how to find good stuff here and elsewhere....as I'm sure you do.

    peace to you,
    paul / kid o.

    ps. on a side note, I had to change the blog network thing. It wasn't turning over, and it was getting spammed. We'll see how 24h cycle works.

    environmentalist heroes

    The folks behind our parks and greenways are often unsung.

    Here in the Bay Area, our seventy-year-old East Bay Regional Park system is the direct legacy of turn of the century environmentalists and activists who fought to preserve land for common use. It is also the largest, and one of the most beautiful, urban park systems in the nation.

    When we head up to the hills to hike at Redwood or Tilden or Sibley Park...we enjoy the legacy of this activism. It's a resource available to every single citizen in perpetuity. Lined with parks and greenland and nature reserves, you could also say that the entire Bay Area, with its initial investment in land reserved for nature and for public use....made a good investment.

    You won't hear current day conservatives talk like this though. Even if, in their communities, they too enjoy the legacy of those "muddy boot" nature-loving greens. Even if the "green" with the mud on his boots was a member of their party.

    You may be fighting to get a dog walk...or to preserve open space land...or to create a greenway. Wherever you are, and no matter how small your contribution seems, if you are a community activist fighting to preserve open space and protect the environment, you are a hero in my book.

    Think of it this way. People someday will thank you as they enjoy a beautiful day in the park, even if they don't know your name.

    They may also, in part, have you to thank for the prosperity and economic health of your community. That's no small legacy.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    land o' links

  • Brad DeLong covers the crush of would-be employees at the soon to open....Oakland Wal-Mart.
  • James B3 writing at My Left Wing covers the story of Georgia's impending restriction on gay adoptions...important story.
  • NYBri continues his reporting from Camp Casey
  • NL in St. Paul at BooMan Tribune points up a letter I hadn't seen yet...from Elizabeth Edwards to Cindy Sheehan
  • Robin, at Girl in the Locker Room has a great post up about women car designers at Volvo.
    "When you meet the expectations of women, you exceed the expectations of men."

    Nuff said.

  • And on the music front:

  • MWAT points up some music from the Secret Machines, plus has a Jenna Bush encounter story to boot....scan down the page...
  • At Soul Sides...Josh Kun adds to DJ O-Dub's stellar Summer Songs series with some truly great music....really good stuff.....uh huhn.
  • face to face with Iraq

    A CNN segment yesterday featured Cindy Sheehan, founder of Gold Star Mothers for Peace, followed by a debate between two mothers of sons killed in Iraq. It was startling.

    There was something about the 'realness' of the moms, Cindy included, versus the 'fakeness' of the morning show talking heads that was disturbing and sad. How, when the female moderator asked the mom who was supporting Sheehan to answer a question...the mom replied, faintly, that her son had died just two weeks ago.

    CNN attempted to turn the presence of these three moms who had lost children in Iraq into a morning show 'political debate'....a 'tennis match' with a split screen and 'tough questions.'

    But one byproduct of the the Cindy Sheehan story is that America is, for the first time, coming face to face with the very real grief and loss of so many families...grief that has been officially hidden by our government and neglected by our press.

    We see something in the faces of these grieving mothers, in their words and how they talk about this war that, whatever their views, is real and profound....there's a sense of loss and sadness that cannot be hidden, or sanitized, or glossed over by a morning TV show.

    When they say "Iraq" it means where their child died.

    Monday, August 15, 2005

    what the meaning of we is

    To be straight up, I was taken aback at the tone of the attacks on NARAL before their ad...and taken aback at the tone of attacks after they pulled it. Now, I've got no problem with folks being critical of any and all organizations within our coalition...or, for that matter, of me and what I write...that's part and parcel of politics, and healthy debate actually makes us a better and stronger party.

    But one thing I just don't get in all of this, is how a sense of solidarity seems to have left some folks' minds entirely. You see, solidarity is our start point, not some bonus value that we tack on if we're all feeling the rosy glow of victory. Speaking for myself, I've got more loyalty to women fighting for their essential rights than I do with the abstract notion of a Democratic victory that promises to protect women down the road but doesn't much act like it today. Some things are essential; control of one's own health and body is one of those things. It would be the same for gay rights or civil rights or for labor law. When the chips are down, you stand with your brothers and sisters, or you don't stand for anything at all.

    What the anti-NARAL folks are asking us is that we cooperate in betraying the fight for reproductive rights by disassociating ourselves from the "we" that is in solidarity to defend them.

    Now, since we're talking about abortion, and I've read too many casual statements about how overturning Roe is inevitable or beneficial or both...let me just make the picture clear. In practical terms we're talking about poor women in "red" and "purple" states who'll suffer the brunt of our casual acceptance of the rollback of reproductive rights: women of color, poor women, women in abusive relationships, women trapped by poverty, religion, family and circumstance who will pay the price for our acquiescence.

    Now, these women aren't some abstract "serves them right" interest group that's outlived its political usefulness. To me, and to anyone who believes that solidarity means something, which I think is the majority of us, those women are us...they are we...and if we sell them down the river by "accepting" the inevitability of their loss of reproductive freedom, if you ask me, we've sold our soul.

    Does that mean we accept whatever NARAL does or doesn't do? No. Does that mean we engage in a forthright discussion of strategy, and disagree if we must? Yes, of course, and we may have just such a situation in Pennsylvania. It is clear to me, however, that pro-choice solidarity in our coalition should actually mean something.

    The standard we should demand of any Supreme Court nominee is that they accept the consequence of Roe and Casey as settled law...that they agree that abortion, as defined in Roe and Casey, should be safe and legal in all 50 states. That is a majority view in this nation. It is most people's common sense understanding of the law of the land. It is also most people's understanding of the position of the Democratic party. And that's what we should demand of John Roberts.

    In my view, if we demand that pledge of a Supreme Court nominee, we should ask no less of Democratic candidates as well, whatever their private conscience or public position on related issues, like parental notification, that may or may not have majority support. This is a position that a clear majority of Democrats can and should take. It's not rocket science. But a language of acquiescence has crept into how we talk about abortion, a subtle shifting of our "we" has elided our basic solidarity...and I find it troubling. Take this quote from a writer I admire:

    For the pro-choice advocates, the stakes could not be higher. If Roe vs Wade is overturned, they are looking at spending years -- decades -- fighting tooth and nail in places like Alabama, Missouri, Utah and Mississippi to try to win back for women the rights they have had for the last 30 years.

    I know that some people think that's a radical and unlikely outcome, and I can't figure out why. It is quite clear that a fairly large number of states are going to make abortion illegal and very quickly too. While some Democrats blithely discuss whether it wouldn't really "be better" if the states handled abortion and allowed the local people to decide such a thing (never mind that the woman who needs an abortion and can't just jump on a plane to California will just have to take one for the team) for pro-choice advocates it means that they are going to have to ramp up their advocacy to unprecedented levels, hire huge staffs to begin the legal challenges and defenses that are going to be required in probably at least 25 legislatures and courts.
    They are rallying their troops in hopes that they will be able to stop that horrid eventuality, but if they can't they are going to need lots and lots of help and they know it.

    And all the while the constitutional right to privacy that undergirds the entire panoply of reproductive freedom issues is going to remain under assault. I would suggest that any young lawyers out there who are sympathtic with this cause study up on the history of abortion law in your state and begin to think about strategies. It's highly unlikely that Roe vs Wade is going to stand.

    Now, I think Digby has tried to be fair in regards to NARAL. He's tried to see their strategy from a sympathetic point of view, and his writing has had the positive effect of giving some folks who were ranting... pause. My beef is not with Digby per se. However, it's because Digby is otherwise so good that this quote highlights two things I find cut to the core.

    First, I find shocking his acceptance of the inevitabilty of Roe being overturned. Digby may be speaking more as pragmatic prognosticator here than as strategist, but I find this attitude chilling and highly problematic. It may or may not be an inevitability that Roe, despite the court's 5-4 reaffirmation in Casey and Clinton's subsequent nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will be overturned as a matter of law...but if this attitude of resigned acceptance is the best we in the blogosphere can muster, why do we exist?

    I, for one, don't take reversal or rollback as inevitable. And even if it were likely that Roe were to face a Supreme Court challenge in a "new court"...I cannot be so sure as to predict that the decision would be written so as to reverse Casey.

    One thing I do know, for the good of our democracy, the pro-choice majority in this country damn well should have something to say in all of this. We should have something to say about whom any President nominates. Nomination is a political process. In the context of George Bush putting John Roberts forward to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, I find this blogosphere "inevitability talk" to be strategic horse manure of the highest order.

    Nothing related to the Supreme Court and its decisions happens in a political vacuum. Nothing. If the Roberts nomination succeeds in the context of this Democratic acceptance of the overturning of Roe, and a blogosphere set on attacking and isolating pro-choice activists within our own coalition...we may well have laid the foundation for just such an eventuality.

    Second, I have to confess that though I understand what Digby is doing rhetorically in referring to "pro-choice advocates" from a distance...essentially trying to help folks understand where NARAL is coming from...that turn of phrase gets to the core of this essay.

    The very fact that Digby has to use this "distancing" to garner some sympathy for NARAL says profound things to me about the state of the blogosphere. You see, this distance, in the context of the scathing, and frankly misogynist, attacks on NARAL elsewhere, has the effect of glossing over that reality. When one of our best writers talks about "pro choice advocates" as if they are somehow...other people...in my view, it puts into clear relief how pro-choice activist and women's right's groups have been moved outside of the "we" of the blogosphere. Why is this so? It's a significant question.

    Why has the Roberts nomination engendered, more than it's done anything else on the blogs, the occasion for a widespread attack on NARAL?

    What is the meaning of our 'we'? That's my question for my fellow Democrats and blog readers. I've read too many folks talking as if their 'we' would fit comfortably inside the majority male membership rolls of the major liberal blogs...talking as if the loss of reproductive rights would be something that happens to 'other people.' ...talking about the overturning or erosion of Roe as if it would be something one might read about in the paper, from the sidelines, with a sense of mournful detachment. That's not my 'we'.

    For myself, I certainly would include the folks at NARAL, pro-choice activists and the millions of women whose rights they're fighting for in my 'we.' Hell, I would even go so far to say that when it comes to reproductive freedom and the right to privacy it's all of our issue, something that is woven deeply into all of our lives.

    I'm sure the vast majority of readers of Democratic blogs, insofar as they are pro-woman and pro-choice can understand that stand point. Solidarity should mean something to us.

    In my opinion, and especially in the context of the Roberts nomination, it's time for the blogosphere to start talking like it.


    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    herbie nichols: american enigma

    One of the things about being a late night jazz dj in a big city...is this deeply rewarding feeling you get dropping a track at 2AM and knowing that it's going to hit the city's audio speakers in so many different ways:

    Cabs, restaurant kitchens, bedroom clock radios, hi-fi stereos in posh apartments...like an instant kaleidoscope...the sounds emanating from your humble turntable get refracted in so many different ways and settings...a portrait of a place and time you'll never see...but one you can imagine if you close your eyes.

    As a dj in New York City you also know that there's likely to be a jazz musician somewhere listening to what you're playing. Thinking about it. Hearing it. Thriving in Tempo...

    That's why I always played some Herbie Nichols.

    Herbie Nichols is an American secret, an enigma, a composer and pianist who worked in obscurity for two decades and died of leukemia at the age of 44 in 1963....by all accounts he was a nice guy.

    Forced to play in conventional Dixieland bands to make money, Nichols never stopped composing his own, more contemporary music. Like Thelonius Monk, a friend of Nichols and a colleague from their days at Minton's Playhouse, Nichols' melodies are intrigueing and strangely compelling, they are also tour de force examples of jazz improvisation.

    You can play a Nichols' track like the Third Word or Step Tempest and feel like something of the American night has been bottled and its fragrance captured for all time...the pulse, the swing, the drive of the music reflects the scintillations and restless energy of the New York street. Nichols' music reformulates that street energy and, in doing so, effortlessly captures something of urban experience that previously seemed uncapturable...much like the painter Charles Demuth did with his Figure Five in Gold.

    Now, for jazz musicians, Nichols is a known and loved figure. Figuring out the changes in Shuffle Montgomery or House Party Starting is part of learning the craft. Like folks said about Mozart, you could never guess what Nichols was going to do next...his music is supple, unpredictable, inquisitive, and open-ended. It is art for the artist, for the love of it. It's also musical...and beautiful...and worthy of listening and savoring to this day. This is straight ahead jazz at its highest level. God knows Nichols never received the fame or attention he deserved in his lifetime. (Significantly, he made sure his compositions were stored at the Library of Congress. You see, Herbie Nichols knew.)

    For me, Nichols is much like French classical composer and pianist Erik Satie, an artist so uncompromising and unshakeable that he simply had to do it his way. We know Nichols' name, much like we know Satie's (composer of the eternally beautiful Gymnopedies), because Nichols was the author one of Billie Holiday's signature tunes....Lady Sings the Blues. There is, however, so much more.

    As it stands, his recorded output is all we have. And that will have to be enough. Photos of Nichols always show a thoughtful, introspective man...but if you take a second look you can also see the face of someone who never received the recognition or respect he deserved. You can see the hard years logged playing music that wasn't his to audiences who could have cared less.

    That's why, for a jazz dj working the late shift in a big city...there's always time to play some Herbie Nichols..time to send his music out to those listeners who can hear it...to release it into the urban night....where it resonates...and where, finally, it belongs.

    There is not much Nichols' availible for listening online. Amazon has some lower quality samples. Personally, I own Blue Note's the Art of Herbie Nichols, a single CD selection by Michael Cuscuna that is worth every penny if you can find it.

    (PS: Ear Fuzz is good tonight. Don't miss the El Cerrito High School track...it'll bring a smile to your face...good stuff in a weird way.)


    Sunday Morning with Bunnatine Greenhouse and Claudette Colvin

    With Cindy Sheehan's protest in the air, it's important to take stock of just how male-dominated the public discussion in this country has become. Fact is, George Bush nominated a man to replace our nation's first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor and the press barely batted an eye, even though the effect of that nomination would leave our High Court with a lone woman. His recess appointment of testosterone-fueled über-male John Bolton to the UN only completes the picture.

    It's 2005, is this where anyone thought we would be forty years ago? Are women frozen at a 10-15% ratio in Washington? Is there a reason that, with a few exceptions that prove the rule, women have dissappeared from our public discourse? (link thanks to reader and blogger Olivia.)

    Given this state of affairs, is it any coincidence that figures like Cindy Sheehan and Bunnatine Greenhouse, lightning rods...whistle blowers both, represent a powerful force of common-sense women's voices saying no? GOP take heed. American politics is a MESS right now. It's going to take principled, no-nonsense women like Bunnatine Greenhouse and Cindy Sheehan to help fix it. Seems to me we've got a new theme for 2006.

    With that in mind, here's a group of worthy stories for you:

  • Last night Mentaldebris turned me on to this story of whistleblower Bunnatine Greenhouse...what an amazing woman and what a disturbing story
    "I have never gone along to get along. And I'm willing to suffer the consequences," [Ms. Greenhouse] said.

    Her contracting staff was sharply reduced, she said, and her superiors have gone behind her back, most notably in issuing an emergency waiver — on a day she was out of the office — that allowed KBR to ignore requests from Department of Defense auditors who issued a draft report in 2003 concluding KBR overcharged the government $61 million for fuel in Iraq.

    "They knew I would never have signed it," she said.

    {Update: Read Shanikka's break down of the story here.}

  • Political Sapphire (Shanikka's blog.) has this disturbing story of institutional racism out of Alabama.

  • Jeanne, at Body and Soul, tells the story of Cindy Sheehan through the lens of civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin. It's a must read.

  • Of course, if you haven't read Frank Rich's editorial today...you're missing one for the ages.

  • {Permalink}

    an evening with Paul Wellstone

    It was fall of 1996 and my friends David and Lisa invited me to the American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis for a fish fry campaign stop for Senator Paul Wellstone.

    It was late in the campaign, and Senator Wellstone was not guaranteed of defeating Rudy Boschwitz, his Republican opponent. He might have had people telling him that attending a moderately-attended fish fry in one our nation's poorest urban neighborhoods was not the most pragmatic move. But as the staff at the center laid out the steaming trays of lightly-breaded walleye and heaping piles of delicious Northern Minnesota wild rice, there in line with the rest of us, was Senator Wellstone and his wife, Sheila.

    They sat at the head table and enjoyed their meal...like the rest of the crowd of two hundred or so regular folks, largely of Native American descent, in the gymanasium. Paul and Sheila then listened to the speeches of the down-ticket candidates. They clearly listened to each speech and appreciated it. Ninety minutes had passed and the Senator had not said a public word.

    When it came time for Senator Wellstone to talk...the room grew quiet. This crowd knew the Senator. He was no stranger. And he simply did what Paul Wellstone always did. He gave the speech of his life. He talked about justice, about community, about specific programs and specific funding measures, he talked about kids and education, he talked about health care to a crowd that KNEW what his proposals meant...and he talked about the neighborhood as if he'd actually spent time in it. And he had.

    Now, culturally, an American Indian audience is not traditionally a vocal one. This crowd was no different. Senator Wellstone didn't get huge applause lines, or amens from the crowd. But that did not stop him. He had something to say. And he was very specific about it.

    As he closed his speech he mentioned how important it was that he had shared this meal, how important the Native American community was to him, and how proud he was to be their guest.

    He was clearly moved to be standing where he was, and, pausing in that moment, in conclusion, he LEAPT atop the cafeteria table in front of him and stood so he could make eye contact with everyone in the room. "I am here tonight," he said, "to promise you that I will fight for you, and take your concerns to Washington D.C....I am here for you, and I am so proud, so proud to be your Senator and to serve you and the State of Minnesota."

    That was Paul Wellstone.

    It came as no surprise, when I heard the news of his death, that he and Sheila and their daughter Marcia were on a plane, late in the campaign, not to pursue votes, but to honor a commitment to a friend and to attend a private funeral.

    That was Paul Wellstone too.

    I am writing this tonight, because, like so many people whom Paul Wellstone inspired...when I think of that evening, it almost feels like his passion, his words, his commitment to justice and to regular people are alive and burning before me. He was simply unforgettable. He was not perfect, but I wouldn't trade a single of his imperfections if it meant giving up the vastness, the profoundness of his heart, and the depth of his commitment to justice.

    Paul Wellstone was right about community, about coalition, he was right about what's really important. And when we lost himall of us lost something that we will never replace...a truly compassionate, wise leader.

    I'm not the only one with a Paul Wellstone story. There are many of us. I pass this story on to you in hopes that it might light a small torch of inspiration.

    Senator Wellstone was irreplaceable. That does not mean we don't need many, many more leaders like him.


    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    positive vibration: activism open thread

    Oakland / Berkeley has a reputation as a "laboratory" for the left wing...try these links to some local activist sites with an East Bay theme:

  • Alice Water's Edible Schoolyard project, based at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, is a tremendously hopeful urban experiment.
  • Visit the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to see how Books not Bars is using net activism to fight the good fight for all California's kids.
  • Oakland-based Circle of Life foundation is an environmental activist ogranization best known for the participation of Julia Butterfly Hill. Sadly, they recently had their office broken in to...if you're in the mood to help, or just to check out a group focused on a holistic view of protecting our Earth...click the link.
  • No matter where you live Idealist.org is a clearinghouse for non-profit activism around the world. Definintely worth a visit.

  • Please feel free to add your own local or global activist links below, or tell your own story...I'm honestly curious and would like to hear from other parts of the country. I know that there are interesting groups working hard all over.

    Friday, August 12, 2005


    Random thoughts from an over-tired mind:

  • I once did a monologue for acting class from Eric Overmyer's overlooked play Native Speech...I played the Hungry Mother part...a kind of deranged dj obsessing on America.


  • I'll never forget seeing an evening of one-act plays by Sam Shepard done by students at the Black Box Theater at Macalester College in St. Paul....that was probably 1984, and those plays felt like the most radical experiences I'd ever had....here's Shepard's mis-en-scene for his play Cowboy Mouth...it'll give you the raw flavor of his early stuff:

    "A fucked-up bed center stage...Scattered all around on the floor is miscellaneous debris: hubcaps, an old tire, raggedy costumes, a boxful of ribbons, lots of letters, a pink telephone, a bottle of Nescafé, a hot plate. Seedy wallpaper with pictures of cowboys peeling off the wall. Photographs of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rogers. Stuffed dolls, crucifixes...A funky set of drums to one side of the stage. An electric guitar and amplifier on the other side. Rum, beer, white lightning, Sears catalogue.

  • A year later I saw Romanian director Liviu Ciulei's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. There's really no way to describe the mood that evening other than to say the theater lobby had been filled with huge copies of the paintings of the Belgian painter....Paul Delvaux. To say that Ciulei took us to another world would be an understatement. Oberon and Titania made their entrance on a glass bed that descended from the ceiling. For a sixteen year old, it was eye-opening. The play, the acting, the world that Ciulei created.

  • I don't know why I'm thinking about theater. There's something about going to a small black room with a bunch of other people and watching a play. There's something about acting that is raw and naked.

    In contrast to the hype and the bluster, the jadedness of our visual culture...a culture of which I'm a part... there's something primal and immediate and oppositional that can get expressed in plays like no other art.

    Funny thing, the idea that walking into a theater could change your life.

    late night links

    It's an embarassment of riches:

  • Words have Power, Cartel of Defiance, Digby, and Arthur Silber are all in fine form tonight.
  • Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul has unleashed a flurry of posts now that her computer is back up....do read, it's worth it...
  • Booman Tribune is covering the Cindy Sheehan story well...with "on the ground" coverage.

  • And on the music front:

  • Man Egee points up the SoCal sound artists Ozomatli
  • Pyrrho gives the nod to DJ Cheb I Sabbah....samples, but they're worth it....a must listen...and don't miss the Don Cherry remix further down. (thanks to both Pyrrho and Man Egee!!)
  • Finally, I walked into Amoeba on Telegraph one night last year and they were playing this 1998 album....by the Lounge Lizards. It's called Queen of All Ears...the music is more intrigueing and full sounding than the tracks here...in fact it's oddly mysterious and appealing work. I've listened to the album over and over again...perfect rainy night music, imo.
  • for a politics of coalition

    One thing that gets me is how my political instincts just run counter to what most folks propose as the "magic bullet" for the Democratic Party. (In my view there isn't one.) As you may have guessed from the title, politically, my instincts always come back to coalition building. This essay is an attempt to analyse why and where I differ with what I see as the prevailing ideas...and to indicate why I am interested in 'coalition building' as the Democratic Party's best bet for winning back a legislative majority.

    It seems like there are two broad schools of thought currently proposing a 'model' for moving forward, those based on message and those based on process.

    Message: Lakoff and Frames

    Simply put, you'll never run out of people who'll tell you that "message" is the cure-all for the Democratic Party's needs. One has only to think of the Clinton, Gore and Kerry campaigns to realize that. Of course, we've been honing our "message" one way or the other for the last twenty-five years...almost as if finding the right words would make the voters come our way. In my view, if message serves as no more than a parentheses around the coalition we're building, it is not a solution to anything.

    I admire what George Lakoff is doing. His analysis informs my writing. Many of my pieces have been just another way of talking about, or using, frames. Lakoff is examining message in a powerful new way. And the best part of his analysis...ironic pun indeed...is how he points out there is this HUGE ELEPHANT in the living room of American politics. That elephant is the well-funded beast we call the Right Wing Noise Machine and we should all be thinking of it and rethinking how we deal with it.

    However, I do fundamentally disagree with Lakoff in that his program has the practical effect of convincing Democratic activists to think that "framing"...or, in its popular form, simply redefining our message...is the key to victory. It isn't. And it never has been. And the danger in suggesting to our field of Democratic candidates in 2006 that they rely on the crutch of message yet again is profound.

    We're not going to discuss our way out of this mess, and we all know it. Creating a legion of "framers" using the exact same words and formulations is something that is not pretty when you hear it in action. It can sound like an army of zombies to me. (Is it just me, or can you tell when someone is going to spring the "framing / Lakoff" thing on you in a conversation?)

    Simplistic, repeated messaging may work for the GOP. I'm not at all convinced it works for us. In fact, I would put it this way, as a party that represents a true, broad coalition, we Democrats come together around causes and ideals around battles and pragmatic programs more that we do around frames or ideology. Yes, message and reframing are essential. They are an excellent starting point. But they are not even close to sufficient. Frankly we've been treating message as an easy answer to the real problems that face our coalition for too long. We cannot simply throw up the brackets of "message" and expect to hold our coalition together. To leave that impression with our candidates is a bad idea.

    Process: the Netroots, Reform and Dean

    Now, there's another school. I'll call it the Dean/Trippi school. This school is convinced that "process" is the key. Whether its the netroots...or online fundraising...or attacking special interest lobbyists...or whatever the next best hope for breaking up politics-as-usual and reforming the Democratic party might be. Let's do something new NOW is the motto.

    There is enormous validity to this point of view. First, we do need reform. And second, like Dr. Lakoff, this school has had an immediate impact. Online fundraising kept John Kerry alive and in the mix in 2004...and, as we can attest...the blogosphere is a new and powerful medium that has energized the grassroots. No one needs reminding that Howard Dean is now the chair of the DNC.

    However, the "process" advocates have faced some real drawbacks as well. First, the messengers...be they Dean or Trippi or Markos...as they would readily admit, are mere mortals. All of them have, like all of us here on the blogs, been in one way or another learning as they go. This has meant real, tangible, public failures...and, at times, despite good intentions, questionable judgments all around. In some ways...events and technology carried these folks to the fore, and it showed, and it still shows.

    There are smart savvy people in the Democratic Party on all sides who are for progressive reform but who disagree with the "process" cadre...not about reform or innovation...but in how they've gone about it. Those voices should be heard. Good ideas should be encouraged and debated. As it stands, in my opinion there is an "echo chamber" effect and "group think" in the netroots and in DFA. It is symbolized in how a single story or movement dominates the top blogs over and over again. It is also expressed in the male "lock" on the culture of the Democratic blogs.

    We need to innovate ways to break the feedback mechanism that creates this. We can start, I think, by looking at what the "reformers" are proposing, and the results they've acheived...not simply what they are critiqueing. We can start by asking how could the netroots work differently and, perhaps, better?

    As it stands, Democratic politics at the netroots has been run on an ad hoc basis, making it up as we go and accepting results "just because."

    There is nothing so thrilling...nor so spectacularly and frequently doomed to failure...as the ad hoc political inspiration of a thousand "like minds" all thinking and doing the exact same thing in the belief that their actions are going to change the world. The Dean campaign was exhibit A for this effect. It is, however, a really bad way to run a political campaign.

    We need better than ad hoc for 2006. We need better than for the blogosphere to be a culture that is dominated by men and jocular attacks. We need better than a "no accountability" zone on the net where strategic failures and rank offensiveness are accepted "just because" it's a new medium. And we won't get there by group think, smack talk and closing ranks. We get there by open discussion and debate in an environment where results matter. For as much as the blogs represent "free speech"...I don't necessily see this happening in 2005.

    Second, and in my view more noxious, is the tendency of the "process" advocates to see the entire established Democratic base as simply an obstacle to their innovation. It isn't. In fact, true reformers don't spend their time pissing off the very people that their reforms are meant to serve. True reformers build bridges. They seek to understand even as they make critiques. They build a case for their innovations by showing how those innovations are better...not by poisoning the well. Too often, playing up the "shock effect" of pushing for reform and innovation has led to some absolutely screwy and irresponsible statements, and the taking of some ludicrous positions. (Women are not a "special interest"...ahem.)

    Simply put, there are millions of us out there who've sweated and bled on previous campaigns and struggles. We've been influenced by folks, mere mortals too, who fought the good fight in the trenches before the internet. Pat Schroeder. Jesse Jackson. Paul Wellstone. 1-800-Jerry Brown. We, too, deeply hunger for reform in the Democratic Party. Yet at times it seems as if the reformers rip through the hard work of two generations of Democratic and progressive activists as if that work contains nothing of value. Some days it seems like the netroots is losing itself in a sea of smack.

    When Markos, and so many others, went after NARAL in such a scathing way, I have to confess, I truly scratched my head. I want to say, "Hey, there was a time before Clinton, before Casey...when we were getting up at 4AM to counter-demonstrate Operation Rescue at abortion clinics. I will bet you cold money that no one who has done that...who saw NARAL in action, and understands what that action meant at the time...would talk like this now." I'd like to use my small voice to send a message to the blogosphere: There's something called respect and solidarity. There's something called respectful disagreement and engaged debate. When we abandon that in the name of "reform", especially when we indulge in juvenile, puerile shock politics, we put the very reforms we advocate in jeopardy.

    Yes, we need reform. We need to innovate process. Reforming process through the netroots is just not, in my opinion, the "be all end all" that its proponents seem to think it is. It is a necessary, but again, not a sufficient solution. And, yes, some of the poisonous attitudes surfing out there, the group-think, the smack talk, however well-intentioned, can indeed do more harm than good.

    At the end of the day, we aren't going to smack talk our way to victory, either.

    For a Politics of Coalition: Wellstone

    I've titled this piece "for a politics of coalition." I intend to write about this project more thoroughly and concretely on this weblog. (Coalition will be a core here.) While it is not a silver bullet....I am convinced that pragmatic coalition building, in cooperation with framing and innovative party reform, is our single best chance to win back a legislative majority in this nation. We owe that to our people.

    It's hard work. You can't do it with message. You can't do it simply sitting at a computer. You can't do it by mailing a check or clicking a button. Real coalition-building means people sitting in the same room and hashing things out from the local up to the national level. It means folks getting their act together in private so that they can stand together in public. It means reaching people who aren't on the web. It means reaching out to people who disagree with you, but who will vote with you. It means, at the end of the day, that we learn to take people where they're at, and move forward together

    As a party, we need to emulate something that Paul Wellstone excelled at: meeting with people and listening to them. And then going back, again and again, and building a long-term relationship based on straight-forward communication and pragmatic alliance building. Wellstone burned the shoe leather. He looked people who didn't agree with him in the eye, and he won their support and respect while staying true to his roots. That is my prescription for the entire party, and for our candidates in particular. We need to bring our people together; and you can't do that at a distance...you have to do that sitting in the same room. That's how American politics works.

    The challenge of pragmatic coalition building is that it is nowhere near as exciting as talking about frames or getting the top 100 blogs to do project x. It is, however, and this is a point I cannot emphasize enough, the most powerful thing we can do to counter Republican dominance of our political life. Coalition-building, hard work though it is, is the single best long-term political investment you can make. Organized Labor has always understood this: When people come together to fight for issues that matter to them, they build alliances that last.

    When we get our act together and stand together as a Party, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are still, at heart, the kind of party that can actually get something done in this country. We are a coalition of diverse people from widely different backgrounds coming together for pragmatic reasons. Hence, when you elect Democrats, we get things done. People understand this.

    If you ask me, the true log jam of American politics is that neither party has in recent history succeeded in building a diverse, "results-oriented" coalition that builds bridges beyond its base. (I would argue that we need to build bridges within our base as well.) Let that happen, let us begin the hard work of building a flexible, pragmatic solution-oriented coalition in this country with a party organization to back it up...and I'll bet you we can kick the GOP's ass out of DC faster than you can say...2006.

    You see, in my view our coalition is the solution, and it always has been. The hard work is ahead of us.