Saturday, July 11, 2009

I'll believe it when I see it

Attorney General May Probe Bush Torture Policy (h/t ADS which is also skeptical).

What an anniversary

One year ago today, oil prices reached their (so far) historical peak of $147.29 per barrel. We can chalk that up partly to some genuine constraints on the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the ground at any one given time, and partly to rampant speculation (Goldman-Sachs, historically a firm with a hand in inciting speculative bubbles, was really pushing for $200 per barrel oil last spring). Prices are somewhat more sane, although there is still plenty of volatility to be found, again mostly driven by speculation (sometimes by rogue traders) rather than supply and demand. Some of that volatility could probably be mitigated by regulating the futures markets. The rest is probably due to those constraints on what can be pumped out of the ground at any one given time - we could argue about when the phenomenon of peak oil will make itself felt (I'm somewhere in between the pessimists who think we've already reached the peak, and the optimists who seem to think I'll be elderly by the time the peak arrives). Mitigation of the influence of peak oil, however, requires a switch to alternative sources for energy consumption, and unfortunately we're about 3 decades behind the curve when it comes to the research necessary to make those sources viable (a situation that was highly preventable by the way). I think it's worth a reminder that $200 per barrel oil would have had (and could still have) some very profoundly negative consequences.

Music and Haiku Interlude

Here's a remix of "Jung at Heart" by Peter Du Charme (under the name Master Cylinder). You might remember the tune from a Volkswagen commercial from about ten years ago:



The tune from the commercial inspired the following haiku (penned in January 1999):
standing on an industrial street
searching my soul for the
perfect beat
I tried to imagine a landscape that fit the tune, a scenario where I might be voluntarily isolated, and then strung together some words that would fit the beat. By the way, this is the basic methodology I use when constructing poems of about any length. Music and words are intertwined with whatever landscape (physical and social) I can imagine. Sometimes it all comes together spontaneously, such as with the haiku above. Other times, the writing sessions are spread out over days or weeks (in one case over a period of years).

Eventually I stumbled across a full-length version of "Jung at Heart" and more recently the remix that I linked to. "Jung at Heart" makes for some nice chill out music that holds up on its own in spite of its origins:
The song is called Jung at Heart and was composed by Peter Du Charme, otherwise known as Master Cylinder, specifically for this commercial. Apparently they made the visuals for the commercial first, and then ask Du Charme to create the music in time.
As the saying goes, now you have the rest of the story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Musical Interlude:

Here's another video that I'd forgotten all about:



The band, the tune, and the album all had the same name: "Art in America". The track was a minor hit in 1983, and I remember seeing this video around that time - probably on a late night music video show on a UHF channel. An employee at a record store I frequented at the time loved playing Art in America's eponymous album. Their sound was a bit unique - it's not every day that you run into a rock band that includes a harpist. The sound is mostly late 1970s/turn of the 1980s progressive rock, perhaps a bit on the mellow side. The cover art was similar to that of more well-known prog rock bands, meaning that they were clearly marketing their record toward fans of Yes, Rush, Asia, and so on. I had a feeling at the time that they were sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike a lot of prog rock from the period, the recording is actually quite refreshing: AIA wasn't particularly pretentious, the lyrics were relatively down to earth (no silly song cycles about hobbits) and they avoided the temptation to bury legitimately well-written songs under layers of big beats and synthesizer effects (which by 1983, too many had given in). In other words, no gimmicks, just the goods. The video itself is actually more interesting that most, if for no other reason than there's less of the band lip-syncing in front of a camera, and more of an effort to tell a story.

Apparently, they're still together, and have a Myspace page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Long overdue

There are actually rumors afoot that the US might start regulating oil and gas market speculation. I'll believe it when I see it, of course. If so, maybe one good thing will have come out of the aftermath of last year's oil bubble.

Musical Interlude:

Here's another old favorite - "Lunatic Fringe" by Red Rider:



The song got quite a bit of airplay in northern California in late 1981, and was arguably one of my favorite tunes of the time. Never saw the video, save for a brief clip a few months ago when my wife was watching "One Hit Wonders". Just as well, as the video really didn't really add anything (true of most videos, imho, then and now). On its own, it's well-written, well-performed, and actually just unique and edgy enough among early 1980s AOR offerings to grab one's attention.

I tend to give a lot of 1980s pop music a hard time - especially that which was geared toward more mainstream audiences - for being vapid and overproduced, but the truth is that there were some gems (especially during the early part of the decade). "Lunatic Fringe" isn't particularly gimmicky, so it holds up to repeated listenings long after its 1981 release. It helps that Tom Cochran had something to say:
Lunatic fringe
I know you're out there
You're in hiding
And you hold your meetings
We can hear you coming
We know what you're after
We're wise to you this time
We won't let you kill the laughter.

Lunatic fringe
In the twilight's last gleaming
This is open season
But you won't get too far
We know you've got to blame someone
For your own confusion
But we're on guard this time
Against your final solution

We can hear you coming
(We can hear you coming)
No you're not going to win this time
We can hear the footsteps
(We can hear the footsteps)
Way out along the walkway
Lunatic fringe
We know you're out there
But in these new dark ages

There will still be light

An eye for an eye;
Well before you go under...
Can you feel the resistance?
Can you feel the thunder?
It ain't Shakespeare, but it's got some substance and enough ambiguity to be relevant outside of whatever context it was originally written. Was it an antifascist statement? A warning lest the lunatic fringe became embedded within the mainstream? It could certainly be interpreted that way. Nearly three decades hence, is it still a clarion call?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

High-water marks

I was watching that old Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie a couple days ago, and the film's dialogue and narration got me to dusting off my old copy of the book on which it was based. There are numerous passages that could easily provide food for thought, but one in particular struck me:
There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. ...

And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. ...

So now, less than five years later, you can up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
That quote is from page 68 of the old Warner Books paperback that came out in 1982. It's the edition I've had since I was a teen. Hunter S. Thompson was trying to describe the Zeitgeist of the cultural revolution of sorts that was taking place in San Francisco back in the the mid-1960s. By the time 1971 rolled around, he was observing the wreckage from the dreams of that brief period (see pp 178-179):
... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody -- or at least some force -- is tending to that light at the end of the tunnel.
I started reminiscing about this sorry decade's high-water mark - or at least the one that matters most to me. In early 2003 as George Bush II's "War on Terra" was about to engulf the people of Iraq, an incredible thing happened. What had been a largely dormant antiwar movement reignited. By the time February 2003 rolled around, we were witness to the largest global demonstrations against what was then still only a proposed invasion of Iraq. In those few weeks before the US unleashed its own special brand of Armageddon on Baghdad, Fallujah, and elsewhere in Iraq, there was a real sense that all of these countless millions of people could actually stop that invasion from happening. We held on to the hope that the third phase of the Iraq War (which had been initiated by Bush I and continued by Clinton) was not a done deal, and that reasonable people would intervene to stop it. I find it almost impossible to describe the atmosphere of the time. The best I can do is to characterize it as frenzied, electric, with a mixture of desperation and hopefulness that has yet to be repeated. The mass protests in mid-February were so huge that the usually docile corporate media were forced to cover them as a legitimate news story. Just about any major metropolitan area you can name had a protest that generated mass-turnout -- many in record numbers. For those of us who were too far away in the hinterlands, we turned to other avenues for action: editorials, letters to editors of local or regional papers, letters and emails to Congressional representatives, messages on Usenet newsgroups and electronic bulletin boards, and blog posts in order to get the word out, and to hopefully persuade the uncommitted to commit. We spanned generations and ideologies, but with a common message, and a sense that the tide was really turning; that armed with the righteousness of our cause a massacre would be averted. Having wondered what it would be like to ride the crest of a high and beautiful wave, this was the moment.

Every once in a while, when I try to explain that all-too-brief period to others, such as those among the "millennials" who are just coming of age or who may - in the case of my oldest child - just be reaching their teens, I try to point them to what was written and done as the high-water mark of the antiwar movement. The wave would break in March 2003, and with it hope. Protests occurred - and even had decent attendance - for a while, but there was never a sufficiently unified popular front to maintain or regain that momentum. Nor were blogs or internet-based "peace" organizations a sufficient substitute for sheer physical human presence. It wasn't for a lack of trying.

It seems almost a lifetime ago now. One of the crucial lessons from then that was quickly jettisoned could be boiled down to a slogan: you are the one you've been waiting for. Instead, too many keep looking for some savior to swoop down at the very last second to right all real and perceived wrongs. That's led to shoveling money into Democratic Party front organizations such as Moveon.org, to the current Pope of Hope who now occupies the White House Throne. The savior business is filled with false prophets, who will gladly sell you a bill of goods. Those t-shirts and bumper stickers emblazoned with words such as "hope" and "change" are, in the waning days of this sorry decade, as faded as the hopes and dreams pinned upon their figurehead leader. Look around you and witness the withdrawal in name only occurring in Iraq, the escalation of atrocities in Afghanistan and increasingly Pakistan, along with the superficial "closing" of the torture chambers in Guantánamo Bay (coupled with the expansion of those in Bagram), and renaming of the "War on Terra" to something a bit more wonkish and banal. The singer changed, but the song remains the same and the war machine hums along.

My advice for those who try to ride the crest of the next big wave, whenever or wherever it may occur is simple: the only one, the only force, who's going to tend to that light at the end of the tunnel is you.

Weekend musical interlude



Unknown Instructors - "Those Were the Days" (from their new album, Funland). Interesting band featuring former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley.