Friday, March 27, 2009

My Shiny New Retro Sears Guitar

One of these days this blog will get back to substance, and I'll again recommend coming here to friends, but for now, here's a picture of my new 70's era Sears brand Harmony electric guitar with its groovy surfer-dude pick-up and the 1970 Silvertone tube amp (also by Sears) that I got along with it. They have a sound of their own that I'm learning to love. The amp comes with a cool little foot switch that kicks in the tremelo (it was a simpler time). Garageband kicks it up a bit in the Pablo Picasso version above, played on my new toy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood

I got on this today by messing with the little E run that starts this song, and it kind of went from there. This is what burn out looks like. It's not pretty. Above is an image from a Bloomingdale window display. Below is one of those sophisticated sexy twenties proto-Mickey Mouse cartoons that I can't get enough of.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pablo Picasso, Or The Further Devolution of Me

This blog has gone to hell since I started playing guitar more, joined Facebook, and got busier and more stressed than I've been in my entire life. But I do find time to play. Here's Pablo Picasso, by me, influenced by the Modern Lovers, John Cale, and possibly The Stooges. My staccato sixteenth notes suck, but that's why they call it "Garageband." Below is John Cale in 1984, being very John Cale.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra's Phaedra, by Tim and Revel. Don't ask me what this song is about. I don't know. But it's cool. Very cool.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I Embrace Socialism

My interview with the Socialist Worker published yesterday, and was a rare opportunity to describe my notions of how homelessness and incarceration link as issues and the overall landscape of our times. They did a really nice job of going to the core of a very long interview and making me sound smart. I'm beginning to get past my innate bias against the silliness of the sectarian left and am learning to love the International Socialists. God help me. Here's an excerpt:

IF SEATTLE continues down this road of criminalizing poverty and decides to go ahead with the new jail, what should we expect in the future?

WHAT'S FUNDAMENTALLY at stake here and everywhere is our vision of the future. We're sliding down a path of a continual increase in the numbers of incarcerated and homeless, continual impoverishment on the lower end of the scale, continual erosion of the middle class and the increased economic vulnerability that comes along with that. More vulnerability to falling over the edge, into that class of people who exist in the land of no return.

There is a lot of mystification around the homelessness issue. You get these complete BS reports out of Washington and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that have all this rosy news about how homelessness is being ended. Anybody who is on the ground dealing with homelessness and seeing the reality knows that there are more people, that the desperation has increased, that things are worse now than they have ever been. This rosy view that things are working is a big smokescreen to placate people.

Homelessness cannot be ended without addressing the root causes that are driving it, that have to do with the economies of labor, and who wins and who loses in this system. The government isn't going to address that, because it can't without threatening itself.

So the response that you see is one of appearing to address homelessness that is really about maintaining their own political legitimacy. They cannot ignore the moral crisis of homelessness without appearing unjust and illegitimate. They cannot address the crisis of homelessness without going to these root causes, which they're institutionally ill-equipped to do anything about.

A theologian named Walter Bruggeman says that situations of cultural acceptance breed accommodating complacency. I think that is the core insight that applies to the times we live in.

As a culture, we have accommodated ourselves to what, at a glance, should be a completely unacceptable reality. There are institutions in place whose primary purpose is to make that accommodation acceptable, to lull us into the sense that things are more or less okay, that the system is functioning normally, and that there is a kind of benign welfare state that is doing its best to take care of people.

That is all an ideological smokescreen. The reality is that about 10 percent of us have been completely written off, thrown to the wolves and have no alternative but to continually cycle through survival systems. Just bare subsistence survival activity--the desperation of which would blow most people's minds if they really understood it--vulnerability to incarceration, and very little prospect of ever escaping that system. That is the core reality of our time, that anybody who has a sense of universal love and concern for their fellow human beings should be completely outraged by.

What we see in the Third World should give us all nightmares. There's been radical growth of urban slums in the Third World over the last two decades--also a response to the global economy, where globalization has driven the rural poor into the containment of the urban slums. The larger ones are 25-40 million people who are living in these shantytowns, where people are living in toxic waste dumps of low-value land, which means floodplains, earthquake-prone slopes, cities built on shit, literally. Smells horrible, no infrastructure, rampant disease. It is a vision of Dante's hell.

The reason we don't have more of that here--although I do think we're starting to see it--is that some of those contested urban spaces are still being contested. And the containment systems are less visible, but are equally horrendous--for instance, the conditions within the prison system, where rape is casually accepted as an unofficial method of dehumanization, of discipline really.

The expansion of maximum-security institutions, in which people are subjected to a form of ongoing torture; the acceptance of dehumanizing conditions within emergency shelter systems--they're different containment systems that dehumanize in different ways.

So one future is continuing along that trajectory. And the economic collapse in the U.S. offers the potential that that curve will again shoot up. In recent years, the rates of growth in incarceration and homelessness have declined slightly--they haven't stopped growing, but they're growing less rapidly.

But our capacity to mitigate this disaster through the provision of human services--which at least offers some sort of a lifeline to those who are most vulnerable--is being reduced, and horrendous cuts are on the table. So we're very likely to see an acceleration in all these trends.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Khalil Osiris

Tonight I went over to Interaction/Transition, an ex-offender re-entry program up in the CD, to hear Khalil Osiris, a man who earned two degrees from Boston University during his twenty years of incarceration in Ohio and went on to be one of the nations leading experts on prisoner re-entry and education. He's an amazing presence. A soul-driven soldier of the dispossessed. Brilliant, charismatic, operating from a place of love, and real as a block of granite.

I didn't go as a reporter, but I reached into my wallet twice to scrawl on the back of a bank slip. The first was in response to a question about compassion fatigue in the helping professions. After the usual advice about self-care, he said something brilliant. Listen to people, he said. Really listen. Listen deeply, listen intuitively, and then ask this. "Given that the situation is exactly as you have described, what is the best thing you can do for yourself, and how can I help you." You could see this hit people around the room like lightening. Powerful..

The other highlight was when he described human dignity as a force against reaction and repression. People who truly possess their own humanity, he said, will win. Then he walked over to a re-entry client standing near the wall, took him by the shoulders, and said "I believe in your worth and capacity for good more than I believe in the system's capacity to treat you with dignity." There's a sentence that you can sit with for awhile.

I/T Director Scott Washington and Osiris have a long history of working together, and he gets to Seattle a lot. Next time, I'm organizing him an audience and getting it on video. It's my damn mission. Anyone this good needs to be seriously seen and heard, and the two brief clips I found on Youtube just don't do him justice. I'm there for this guy, anytime.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Public Service Announcement

This morning I was focusing on my core priorities, which meant catching up on email and deleting spam, when I came across a PSA for a new website, I immediately downloaded the PSAs, visited the website, smoked a cigarette and remembered to take my medication before going onto five other things, playing a little guitar, and eventually coming back to the email clearance project.

As a guy who wasn't diagnosed until 48 despite a rather textbook ADHD life trajectory, I'm a little disappointed they didn't get someone a bit higher profile than Howie Mandel, "host of the show Deal or No Deal," on board for this. Robin Williams would have done nicely. I'm betting that half the comedians on earth share my superpower. I'd also have preferred the PSA focus less on the negatives.

Superpower? Hell yeah. It's only an "affliction" when you don't get it. Once you know the dynamics of flow and hyperfocus, you understand that the world is divided into hunters and gatherers, and we hunters, when we're not bored, live in a heightened state. An ADHD friend calls this way of being "The Passion." I like that.

Boredom, to me, is a sin and an insult to the universe. It's a lapsed-Catholic meets existentialist Buddhist on Adderall kind of thing. You wouldn't understand.

Here's Robin Williams, using his superpower to describe the French.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Government By FIRE

This week’s $30 billion federal gift to AIG exemplifies everything wrong with government by FIRE. The financial, insurance, and real estate sectors that, by virtue of having more money than god, have co-opted the democratic process, just dipped deep into our pockets to grope for another big wad of cash. By treating our economy as an enormous floating crap game, these sectors have enriched themselves by gambling with our lives, and when the dice come up snake-eyes, we’re all forced to ante up another round.

This is what economist Robert Kuttner has described as the “moral hazard” of economic bail-outs. Risk is socialized, profit is privatized, and the rules of the game more or less stay the same. Every time this occurs, the message to the high rollers is “go for broke boys, we’ve got your back.”

Big numbers make people’s brains go numb, but we need to ask, “How much is $30 billion?” The math isn’t hard. Divide $30,000,000,000 into about 306,000,000, the total U.S population, and you get about $96 for each man, woman, and child in America.

In itself, this doesn’t seem like all that much — about my monthly Verizon bill, once I’m raped for all the unsolicited corporate text message charges — but you know what they say. Thirty billion here and thirty billion there: pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

This latest public investment at economic gunpoint, where the governing structure of the company remains essentially in place with taxpayers having little to no guarantee of ever being repaid, isn’t something happening far away in Washington, DC. It’s happening right now. Right here, in your pocketbook.

If that’s not OK with you, it’s time to wake the hell up and say so.

Crush Revived

I came across this on Facebook at 5 a.m. on a sleepless night and it ripped me open. Dayna Kurtz was a college housemate and friend back around the mid-80s that I'd lost track of until the miracle of social networking reunited us. She was a talent even then and played a bar here and there. Now, well, she's a hard working NY-based pro who's huge in Amsterdam and known throughout Europe. I had a pretty serious crush. It's been revived as of around fifteen minutes ago. Her geographically remote and totally married unattainability just makes it that much more fun.

This is a wide open spanish-inflected blues for America called Lady Liberty, performed live in Puerto de Santa Maria a few years ago.
You come at me, too human, and drag me down and leave me
broken like a spine, split open like a melon,
that's been dropped from a high, high, place.
You can follow the YouTube link to other stuff. She's something. Damn.