Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Revolutionary Tangents

Like many of my fellow countrymen, I have discovered Al-Jazeera English over the past few days, watching the live feed of the Egyptian people defending Tahrir Square against the defenders of the Mubarak dictatorship. As I write those words, I am struck by the the rather quaint, anachronistic notion of a public square being the focus of a liberatory struggle. Like Beijing (Tianenmen Square) in 1989 or Prague (Wenceslas Square) in 1968 and 1989, just to name two cities that have seen convulsive revolutions in recent years (if I may permitted the liberty of claiming 40-plus years as "recent" in a society in which any year pre-Ipod may as well be the era of home-churned butter), Cairo is the center of a civilization of great significance both ancient and modern (the two battles of El Alamein were turning points of World War II, and the 1956 Suez Canal crisis a fiasco for the former colonial powers Britain and France). And, if the pitched street battles that have pitted the improvisational ingenuity of the antigovernment protesters against the outnumbered but well-armed pro-government thugs are any indication, it appears that Tahrir is the carotid artery through which the blood of Egyptian cultural pride flows.

I am, of course, tempted to do an internet search on the term "Tahrir Square," and glean its specific historical narrative. I am aware that tahrir translates as liberation, but does the area have ancient significance, the way Mexico City occupies the same space as the ancient city that once dominated Aaztec political and economic life? Or was it a legacy of independence from colonialism, perhaps associated with Nasser? Whatever the larger context, and whatever the eventual results of the Egyptian uprising, the desperate courage shown by the occupiers of Liberation Square will inspire for many years.

But what can we expect from this uprising, particularly given the failures of the Prague Spring and Tianenman Square at their respective times? Was the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall the result of the most immediate actions surrounding them, or should they be considered unthinkable without the 1956 Hungarian uprising (contemporaneous with Suez, incidentally), the Prague Spring and the Polish Solidarity movement of the early 1980's? Will the next few years bring a revolution in China that will finally realize the promise of Tianenman? Will Tunisia and Egypt be follwed by Jordan? Or Yemen? Or even Ireland or Greece? Or even (gasp) the United States, racked by political corruption, economic stagnation and increasingly unsustainable imperial commitments? The final scenario seems ludicrously unlikely, of course, but how likely did Egyptian revolt seem even weeks ago?

In 1848, revolution swept across almost the entirety of Europe, without the benefit of the instantaneous communication that our gadgets offer us today (at least when terrified governments don't disable them). 2011 may be the equivalent for the Arab world... or maybe even beyond.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Battered by Capitalism, But Never Broken: John Ross, 1938-2011

Last week brought word of the passing of John Ross, the 73-year-old journalist best known for chronicling the utterly unique and inspiring saga of the EZLN, known more commonly as the Zapatistas. Based in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, the Zapatistas burst into the international consciousness on January 1, 1994, attacking army posts on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. Although their initial military victories were followed by a strategic retreat into the Mayan villages from whence they came, their courage and charisma (embodied by the otherwordly, pipe-smoking, media-savvy raconteur Subcommandante Marcos) inspired the struggle against corporate globalization that won stunning victories from the streets of Seattle to the streets of Cochabamba to the ballot boxes of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador, in the intervening years. And Ross, like John Reed and Ambrose Bierce in the days of Villa and Zapata, recorded this Mexican Revolution in Rebellion From the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas (1995), The Annexation of Mexico: From the Aztecs to the IMF (1998), The War Against Oblivion: Zapatista Chronicles (2002) and Zapatistas! Making Another World Possible (2006).

John Ross was in his mid-fifties by 1994, however, and had been toiling in the trenches of poetry and journalism for many years by that time. Born to New York Communists and coming of age in the Beat era, his public debut as a poet followed a Charles Mingus concert, and he was later instrumental in arranging bookings for Billie Holiday and Jack Kerouac. Like other of the Beats, he found a spiritual and political home in Mexico, punctuated by long stays in the Bay Area (including 18 months in prison for refusing to be drafted in 1964) and Arcata, California. Murdered by Capitalism, published in 2004, is something of an autobiography, interspersed with a speculative biography of E.B Schnaubelt, a lifelong radical from an earlier generation, who also made his way to the redwood forests of Humboldt County, California, after agitation on behalf of the eight-hour working day in Chicago led to violence in Haymarket Square in 1886 and then the framing and execution of four anarchists, including Civil War veteran Albert Parsons. Between Ross and Schnaubelt, who narrate the novel from the latter's gravesite (fueled by the shots of whiskey Ross shares with the long-dead Schnaubelt, whose epitaph provides the title), the struggles of the Haymarket martyrs and the Wobblies are connected with the Beats, the Sixties counterculture and the Zapatistas. It is an artistic and historical tour de force, striking just the right tones of irreverence and earned nostalgia, celebration of triumph and melancholy over missed opportunities: in short, the story of the American Left over the last 125 years or so.

But there was no finer embodiment of that history than Ross during his all-too-short 73 years. Greenwich Village Beat poet and jazz lover, West Coast Maoist and imprisoned draft resister, Humboldt County forest defender, and, finally, Mexican expatriate rebel journalist and champion of the most inspiring and internatinally-galvanizing revolutionary peasant army since the anarchist militias in the Spanish Civil War. And I'm going to have to disagree with Joe Hill here: I think we should mourn this loss with some good tequila and a few puffs of Humboldt kind, and then we should organize like hell.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WAR IS OVER IN 2012! (if you want it)

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Poll shows 63 percent opposition to the war in Aghanistan. Despite this, organized resistance to the war is largely ineffectual, particularly within the two major political parties. Although this is a situation that could change quickly within the next two years, I sadly think it more likely that the trend would be toward more military intervention (Iran, Pakistan, Yemen) rather than less. And given the increased centrality of the chief executive/commander in chief in the decidedly skewed and constitutionally unstable division of powers, I don't think it's too early to engage in some serious speculation about the 2012 presidential election.

Despite the near-absence of serious foreign policy discussion in the midterm elections, I think the climate is increasingly conducive to just that kind of dialogue. The Wikileaks releases are laying bare the cynicism and venality of American imperialism, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instructing her minions in the State Department to commit identity theft against fellow diplomats (perhaps as a creative way to bring down the deficit?). Meanwhile, the publication of Volume 1 of the Autobiography of Mark Twain should introduce a new generation of readers (is that phrase the height of naivete, or what?) to the Bard of Hannibal's apoplexy at the genocidal, naked land grab that was the McKinley/Roosevelt Administration's Spanish-American War (also a lightning rod for Ambrose Bierce and William Dean Howells, the, I don't know, William Vollman and Gore Vidal of their time?).

I submit that the anti-imperialist moment could be on us, if not now, certainly as 2012 gets closer, and those of us across the political spectrum who would like desperately to at least return to a flawed but evolving constitutional republic should be thinking in terms of legitimate electoral revolution. And I believe I might just know how to do it.

What I propose are simultaneous and coordinated insurgent primary campaigns in both major parties, and perhaps even as independents or within established third parties. I think the ideal candidates would be chosen from among Democrats Russ Feingold (outgoing Senator from Wisconsin) and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Republicans Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. Let me explain how it would work.

All four men are extremely popular with passionate constituencies within their respective parties. Kucinich and Paul have both run for president before, while Feingold and Hagel have been encouraged to do so. Despite the statistical opposition to the war, neither President Obama nor the talked-about Republican candidates (Barbour, Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin, Romney) seem likely to alter their positions in the next two years, so antiwar candidates on either side would have the field to themselves, much like Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (before Bobby Kennedy's entry into the race). Finally, all four men have impeccable records as independent-minded opponents of recent American military actions in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, and the campaigns should focus with a laser-like intensity on the economic, social, constitutional and moral costs of those wars and the imperial conceits that sustain them.

The coordination of the campaigns should take the form of each candidate vowing to make the other his vice presidential candidate in the event of securing the nomination. Feingold would vow to make Paul his vice presidential pick, and vice versa. Yard signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, websites and rallies should emphasize Feingold/Paul 2012 or Hagel/Kucinich 2012 interchangeably, with the bipartisanship that polls and pundits clamor for constantly on display.

Prominent insurgent political candidates (of all political stripes) of the recent past should be recruited to the cause, in whatever capacity they are comfortable. Off the top of my head, the list would include John Anderson, Jerry Brown, Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean, Mike Gravel, Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura. Again, the emphasis is on multipartisanship, as well as on candidates whose campaigns seized people's imaginations and created intense emotional connections. Of course, some would be unwilling to commit to such a radical campaign (Brown and Jackson seem the least likely), but even a handful could make a real difference.

As current members of Congress, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich would be risking real ostracization by subverting their respective parties, but both have proven time and again their willingness to buck the party leadership and blaze an independent trail, without electoral repercussions. Paul's fiscal conservatism and opposition to Federal Reserve policies contribute to his popularity among the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, while Kucinich embodies the progressive base of the Democratic Party, increasingly frustrated with Obama's trail of broken campaign promises. Feingold and Hagel would be free of such baggage, while harkening back to the proud and vocal Midwestern anti-imperialists of our nation's past (such as Wisconsin Republican Senator Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and Nebraska Democratic Senator William Jennings Bryan, who resigned as Secretary of State upon U.S. entry into World War One).

The challenges would be daunting, of course. The establishments of both parties would be arrayed against them, as would be the corporate money. Additionally, many lifelong members of both parties would simply be unwilling to support a ticket that included someone from the other party. And the phenomenon of Obama as a galvanizing figure cannot be underestimated: given the historic 2008 election of this country's first black president, many Democrats/liberals/ progressives would simply be reluctant to support a ticket of two white males.

While I am as disconcerted as anyone by the perpetual campaigning that seems to define and trivialize our political discourse, I also recognize that even unsuccessful presidential campaigns can have tremendous impacts, capturing the zeitgeist of the time and perhaps prophecying the future. I really think two years from now could be one of those times. Carpe diem, my friends.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Renegades on Main Street

Books reviewed:

Life, by Keith Richards, with James Fox. 2010, Little, Brown and Company. 564 pages.

A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell. 2010, Free Press. 382 pages.

Although these are the two books I have most recently finished, it certainly wasn't the most natural decision to review them together. After all, Occidental College Professor Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States makes the provocative, but still scholarly, case that the evolution of freedom in the United States has often been at odds with, rather than developing alongside, American democracy. While a more orthodox view would hold that American liberty, forged by the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution, and then nurtured in fits and starts by grassroots and legislative initiatives from abolition and women's suffrage to Progressivism and the New Deal to the labor and Civil Rights movements, Russell argues that these various collective movements have also attempted to erode the freedoms of those who have chosen (or been forced into) lifestyles that rejected the social and political integration advocated by them. Meanwhile, the other book is the long-awaited autobiography of the retirement-eligible guitarist for a seminal English rock and roll band whose lead singer is a knight and who were most recently the subjects of a slick documentary/concert film by Martin Scorcese, in which they are shown meeting and conversing with former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

However, if one needs it, the reminders are there throughout Life that one is reading about the life of a true hedonistic renegade, and one for whom outlaw American culture looms large. Richards and Mick Jagger first bonded over the love of American blues and rhythm and blues, and the Stones' early live shows and recordings were built around the work of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, among others. Later came a remarkable string of original songs and albums, the death of founding member Brian Jones, Altamont, heroin addiction, multiple busts and razor-thin close legal calls. By the time I caught their live show in the Superdome in 1989, they were a well-oiled machine, but I believe it is instructive to recall that an earlier documentary of the band is the graphically controversial, still-unavailable-on-Netflix Cocksucker Blues, directed by Robert Frank. A Wikipedia search reveals that not only is it unavailable on dvd (outside of bootlegs, one of which was fortunately available on videotape at an outstandingly exhaustive video store in Portland when we lived there), but a court settlement between Frank and the Stones means that it can only be publicly screened only in the 86-year-old director's presence.

Born in Switzerland, Robert Frank published the photography book The Americans in 1959, with an introduction by Jack Kerouac. With its candid black-and-white snapshot-like portraits of parades and lunch counters and New Orleans streetcars, Frank gave photographic life to the paintings of Edward Hopper, resonating with the same indigenous bohemians embracing Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie and William De Kooning. He also collaborated with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg on the film Pull My Daisy, in my estimation a too self-consciously zany period piece that has not aged very well and gives improvisation a bad name.

The point is that Frank was, like Keith Richards, an Old World outsider who created something bold and new out of what was considered by many the common detritus of American culture. But Thaddeus Russell makes a compelling case for the lives and actions of just such human detritus (slaves, drunkards, pirates, prostitutes, homosexuals, unwanted Irish and Italian and Jewish immigrants) as providing the propulsion for the forward movement of liberty throughout our history.

A case in point is the role of prostitutes and madams in the frontier West. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously declared that the frontier was the defining touchstone throughout American history, metaphorically and psychologically as much as geographically. Russell shows that the western frontier was also the place where the flouting of sexual taboos and women's liberation thrived hand in hand:

"...Mattie Silks,...had risen from the ranks of streetwalkers in Abilene, Texas and Dodge City,
Kansas, to become a brothel owner by the age of nineteen. Soon after moving to Denver in
1876, she purchased a three-story mansion with twenty-seven rooms, then outfitted it with
the finest furnishings available. Visitors to the Silks brothel were greeted by a symphony
orchestra in tghe main parlor...After her retirement from the trade, she told a newspaper, 'I
went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other. It was a way for a woman in
those days to make money, and I made it. I considered myself then and I do now--as a busi-
nesswoman.' Her employees, who were among the highest paid women in the United States,
'came to me for the same reasons that I hired them. Because there was money in it for all of
us." (p. 106).

The above passage encapsulates an ongoing theme of Russell's, which is the power of desire, whether it be material, sensual, or consumerist, in not just the struggle for liberty as such, but the struggle to control the personal definition of liberty. Many are aware of the role of young immigrant women in the early twentieth-century labor struggles, but Russell points out that the enthusiasm of the young women for "vulgar dancing," cigarette smoking, and even dressing in an "improper" manner for their social class were a cause of concern for their social advocates, and at least one union of shirtwaist makers proposed a strict budget for members' clothes purchases.

Projecting forward a few decades and across an ocean, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion bands represented a vehicle for ecstatic release for the generation born in the immediate aftermath of World War II, which decimated the British economy and infrastructure in a way unimaginable to Americans. And while the Beatles at least maintained a proper sense of public decorum at the beginning, with their matching suits and charming personalities and cinematic hijinks, the Stones were shrewdly positioned as ruffians who threatened the very British Empire that the Beatles had famously been made Members of (complete with John Lennon's gentle jibe to the wealthier members of the audience to rattle their jewelry instead of applauding).

One of the most fascinating of Russell's historical discussions is that of the American intersections of race and ethnicity, from the transition from slavery for African-Americans to the assimilation of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants into the white American mainstream. The stererotype of Blacks as lazy and averse to physical labor, while paradoxically seemingly tireless when it comes to other physical activities (music, dancing, sports, sexual activity), was repeatedly applied to the above immigrant groups (it's still almost surreal to think of Jewish New York as the center of college basketball in the 1940's), until such time as they were able to quell those passions which eminent scientists had previously ascribed to innate physical characteristics, and take their place among the civilized Anglo and Germanic "races." Meanwhile, from Reconstruction forward through the Civil Rights Movement, "responsible" Black leaders and their White counterparts, many of them Christian ministers, strove to instill "respectable" values in their followers.

Keith Richards draws a remarkable portrait of the Stones' first American tour, in the summer of 1964 (still before the breakout of "Satisfaction," arguably the first truly iconic original Stones song penned by Jagger and Richards). Politically, Lyndon Johnson was headed to a historic electoral trouncing of Barry Goldwater, paving the way for the historical federal civil rights legislation of the next year. Still a year removed from Malcolm X's assassination and the Gulf of Tonkin deception and Resolution, but the Berkeley Free Speech Movement is thriving and many young blacks are embracing the militancy of Malcolm and the nascent Black Power movement. But none of these are mentioned in Life. Instead, "The first thing I did was visit Colony Records and buy every Lenny Bruce album I could find," (p. 149). Bruce was, of course, a classic American renegade (unfortunately unmentioned by Russell, who skips over the comedy revolution of Bruce, Dick Gregory, Mort Sahl and others), a profound artist whose satirical content, inspired vulgarity and drug-fueled lifestyle made him a reluctantly political free-speech hero and dovetailed nicely with some of Richards' later travails.

Keith's American experience, meanwhile, is anchored by Black music: "Motown was our food, on the road and off. Listening to car radios through a thousand miles to get to the next gig. That was the beauty of America. We used to dream of it before we got there," (p. 150). Not the ecstatic language of Jack Kerouac, but still very much in the spirit of the Beats and their contemporaries (including Lenny Bruce) in cultural, rather than distinctly political, revolution. The Stones were introduced to marijuana on this tour, sparred with Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin and numerous jealous, crew-cut boyfriends at concerts across the South and Midwest, and Keith picked up his first gun at a truck stop. An American renegade is born.

Rock and roll and rhythm and blues are, of course, musics that are experienced viscerally and physically, an insight that Mick Jagger probably realizes as well as anyone on the planet. But I think the connection between the physical and the political is still vastly misunderstood and underestimated. Early twentieth-century anarchist agitator Emma Goldman famously said she wanted no part of a revolution she couldn't dance to, and the French revolt in May of 1968 that almost brought down the De Gaulle government (which inspired the Stones' "Street Fighting Man") had its genesis in conflicts at a suburban Parisian university over co-ed dorms, but many still insist on drawing a clear line between the cultural and political revolutions of the 1960's. But Thaddeuss Russell does a lot to obliterate that line, never more convincingly than when discussing Stonewall and Gay Liberation.

While early gay rights groups like the Mattachine Society insisted on respectable forms of protest and conventional lifestyles from those representing them publicly, gay bars in major cities were almost exclusively operated by the Mafia, in a classic case of renegade quid pro quo. While the motivation was typically financial, there were exceptions, Russell cites several examples of mobsters ("Fat Tony" Lauria, "Big Bobby," Vito Genovese's lesbian wife Anna Petillo Vernotico) whose interest was more personal, as well. The Stonewall's manager was an ex-con "known for his fondness for black and Latino men, which contributed to the Stonewall's reputation as the most racially diverse bar--gay or straight--in New York City," (p. 235).

On June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall defied the police during a raid that was as much a Mafia shakedown operation as a vice squad action, according to Russell. But the highlight of the confrontation, and "one of the great renegade moments in American history," according to Russell, was a Radio City Music Hall-style kick line in the face of N.Y.P.D. riot cops. The participants pretty much got their asses kicked. They most likely didn't know that they were kick-starting the Gay Liberation movement and that their lives would never be the same again. But some of them may have known, in some deep, subterranean, subconscious way. Sometimes you just have to go all renegade on them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Relucant Moral Compromise in the Age of Empire

As I write this, Wikileaks public face Julian Assange is in police custody in London, having been denied bail and planning to fight extradition to Sweden to face Kafkaesque sexual assault charges. On this side of the Atlantic, Barack Obama and Eric Holder are honing their Woodrow Wilson/Mitchell Palmer act, threatening to reprise the actions of a President and Attorney General whose contempt for, and mischaracterization of, Constitutionally-protected, government-criticizing free speech took a backseat to no one. The biggest difference is probably the fact that the infamous Palmer raids resulted in the deportation of 556 alleged radicals (including anarchist firebrand Emma Goldman), while the Obama/Holder goal is to force Mr. Assange into this country, to face charges related to the heroic publication of U.S. diplomatic cables laying bare the arrogance and sadism of the American empire in its internationally convulsive death throes.

Despite my passion for this issue as a citizen, it is only recently that it hit home in a more intimate manner. I describe myself as a guerrilla used bookseller, with my income from that endeavor split almost evenly between selling at open-air weekend markets in the New Orleans area, and selling online through's Marketplace Seller Program. Basically, I have an inventory of approximately 2100 books (not one of the bigger fish in the Amazon pond, by any means), priced and described, that I sell through's website. I pay a monthly fee for this service, as well as a fee on each successfully-executed transaction. In return, I receive access to Amazon's worldwide customer base. Paradoxically, I am a fiercely independent bookseller operating within a large corporate entity, one that arguably poses a threat to the locally-owned mom-and-pop operations that are still out there. However, I am not selling the latest Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts escapist tome: I like to think I am providing my customers with the tools for their self-directed evolution, tools which are most likely available at their local used bookstore. Up until recently, I would argue that the compromises and idealism were in a sustainable balance.

As many of you probably know, is front and center in the Wikileaks controversy, owing to their recent dropping of the website from their server. Their excuses have been numerous, but it seems to boil down to asserting that Wikileaks doesn't "own or otherwise control all the rights..." to the classified materials they have released, a violation of the terms of their contract with Amazon. However, as founder and columnist Justin Raimondo (one of the most insightful contributors to the ongoing dialogue) has written, if the released diplomatic cables are "owned" by anyone, the owners are "...the people whose involuntary contributions paid for them, i.e. the American taxpayers,":

"Far from stealing anything, Wikileaks, in effect, returned stolen property to its rightful owners (author's italics). To argue otherwise is to maintain a deeply statist and proto-authoritarian stance: that the state exercises sovereignty over the people, rather than vice versa," (Raimondo,, December 6, 2010).

The above quote is from a Raimondo column titled "Defend Wikileaks - Boycott Amazon," a position I am afraid I have to personally support and endorse, despite the potential loss of income. I wish I felt like I had the option to end the relationship completely, but I am not fiscally prepared to do that right now. Perhaps this episode will motivate me to do more, faster, to extricate myself from the corporate machine. But I can do penance.

From this point forward, starting from the beginning of December, 2010, I pledge to tithe 10% of the income I earn from sales to one of the following: (1) Wikileaks itself, currently dodging and feinting the best cyber-efforts of the Matrix to bring it and keep it down, (2) the Julian Assange defense fund, if necessary; or (3) the Bradley Manning defense fund, helping out the heroic soldier who is alleged to have copied the classified documents and made them available to Wikileaks. If this situation is resolved in a timely and morally appropriate manner (which would probably require the complete dismantling of the U.S. imperial infrastructure through some sort of indigenous Velvet Revolution), the tithe will go to

Meanwhile, I will go on peddling my wares at various open-air street markets in the New Orleans area, subverting the empire, spreading the Velvet Evolution one reasonably and always negotiably-priced book at a time. Stop by anytime.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Matrix Springs a Wikileak

I think you can officially call me obsessed. This Wikileaks controversy, the imprisonment of Private Bradley Manning (the alleged source of the leaks), the attempted prosecution of Julian Assange for consensual but unprotected sex, the revelations of signed instructions from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to U.S. diplomats to commit identity theft(!) against foreign officials.

I've already sent one letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune, in response to the typically banal musings of David Brooks, who can always be counted on for aggressively conventional wisdom that's often COMPLETELY WRONG! If they decide to run it, it will probably be edited because of length (hard to contain myself on this one), so I will most likely run it in this space in its entirety.

Until that point, I want to share a pair of writings that are a part of a project I took part in during November. They will be part of a larger publication in January in chapbook form (available for sale at that time, but the impresario of the project, Dan Waber, has given all the writers in the project complete freedom to do what they will with their writings. So consider this a Mikeyleak and a sneak preview:

November 29

Hi, everyone, let me be the first to wish you an early Merry Christmas, Happy Hannakuh, Joyous Kwanzaa and a Festive Festivus. Julian Assange and the crew at Wikileaks have put a smile on my face and a spring in my step, with the release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables laying bare the cynical, criminal imperialism at the heart of the Obama/Clinton Doctrine, so fundamentally unchanged from that of their predecessors. And Bradley Manning, if you truly were the one responsible for spiriting out the documents on your Lady Gaga cd, you, sir, are a great American, and I am seriously tempted to try to get into law school so I can serve as your lawyer at a later date, just like in that recent movie I didn't see, with the actor and acress whose names I can't remember (but wasn't she the one whose hotness the crew was arguing about on The Office that time? Classic Stanley Hudson moment).

Personally, I think Secretary of State Clinton could be a casualty, what with the orders, signed by her, to State Department employees to commit identity theft against fellow foreign diplomats. Surely some of the more libertarian Republicans (Congressman Paul? Senator Paul?) can give this one some legs and run with it. Of course, that would then give Obama the opportunity to recharge his presidency by appointing someone with solid antiwar credentials (you know, kind of like the perception of a charismatic presidential candidate from the not-as-distant-as-it-seems past)(how about Russ Feingold or Chuck Hagel, to name two people who aren't that busy right now?). I know, I'm just a goldern starry-eyed naive mooncow sometimes, but that's what early Christmas presents can do for me. Thank you, Julian Assange, wherever you are.

November 30

For a brief time today, it appeared that Julian Assange, 39-year-old public face of Wikileaks, and a man without a country for the moment, might be able to consider settling in Ecuador, as an official invitation was reported to have been extended from the Foreign Ministry. However, the invitation seems to have been rescinded by President Rafael Correa, who appears to have gotten cold feet about the obvious confrontation with the United States Government that such an action would provoke.

Might I make a modest alternate proposal? As the resident of a region which much of the United States seems to consider a foreign country, a region which was abandoned by the federal government in its time of greatest need, and then militarily occupied like an enemy state, not to mention cursed as a place of wickedness deserving of its fate, I would propose that the city of New Orleans extend a formal invitation to Mr. Assange and his band of anti-imperialist techno-warriors.

Before you dismiss the idea outright, recall that early New Orleans may Nicolas Girod proposed offering refuge to Napoleon Bonaparte when he was exiled to St. Helena. Furthermore, former New Orleans city technology chief Greg Meffert is facing sentencing on bribery charges, and Mayor Landrieu could probably use someone who (a) has staked his reputation on transparency, and (b) has a vested interest in avoiding any perception of wrongdoing. Finally, New Orleans is perpetually in need of sustainable economic development, and Mr. Assange and his colleagues could probably do a lot to establish a high-tech corridor when they're not busy exposing the inner workings of the Matrix to a gradually awakening citizenry.

Welcome, Julian. Oh, you can leave the disguise on. It's only about three months until Mardi Gras. You're among friends.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Month of Words

It's been way too long since I checked in, but there is a reason, and I want to explain my tardiness by sharing some of my November calendar with you.

Starting today, November 1, I will be participating in "November 2010," a writing and publishing experiment in which 30 writers (including my good friend and brilliant Shreveport writer Michael Harold) will be writing 200-300 words a day for each day of that month. At some point after the end of November, each author's writing for the month will be collected and published in booklet form. In addition, a booklet will be published for each day of the month with the writings of every writer for that day. I'm terrified and extremely excited about what this month will bring.

There is no proprietary relationship involving the writings, beyond editor and publisher Dan Waber reserving the right to publish them after the conclusion of the month. Therefore, I will be sharing them with you throughout the month. Of course, you will then have no particular motivation to purchase the finished product, except for your enduring loyalty to this anachronistic artifact called the "book," which you may have to explain very slowly and meticulously to your grandchildren, if you can compete with the somatic mind-meld video stream they'll undoubtedly be plugged into as part of their nanotechnology jumpsuit. Or something.

Now I've probably somewhere between 200-300 words right now, so these entries will be brief, compared to the usual tomes of wisdom you're accustomed to in these pages. But it'll be a fun journey, right? Without further ado:

November 1st

We received information today from the company through whom we have health insurance for our 10-year-old daughter, informing of the changes required by the new health care law. It seems to add up to a grand total of four, including removal of: overall lifetime dollar maximums (reassuring, but hopefully not relevant); maximums for mandibular joint services (jaw work, hopefully not some euphemism for death panels); and maximums for sterilization services(!) (did the eugenics lobby have to be appeased, along with every other special interest?).

Finally, eligibility for adult children has been raised from age 21 to 26. Now, this is my daughter Zora's policy, so this change applies to her children. She is 10 now, so let's suppose, for argument's sake, that she gives birth at 24. Previously, she could keep that child on this policy until she (Zora) is 45. Now, with this legislation, she can extend the coverage until she (Zora) is 50. The point is, this revised benefit doesn't kick in for 35 years(!). It's as if legislation passed by the Gerald Ford, denounced by Ted Kennedy and Ralph Nader and the 1975 left-wing media mogul equivalent of Glenn Beck (Dick Cavett? Tom Snyder? Some Maoist grad student in semiotics at Berkeley with a ham radio?), were just taking effect today.

Okay, so here's the actual point. This half-assed "reform" is nothing to be either praised or denounced as the second coming of the New Deal. It's business as usual, with some crumbs thrown to the insurance companies, so maybe they'll throw them back to the Democrats (God knows there should be less of them to have to divide the spoils after tomorrow's midterm elections). And hopefully, Zora's theoretical children will live in a society where the audacity of hope has some more substance to it. Either that or they'll live in France, and they'll be doing something more about it.

The weekend of November 6-7 is chock full. The New Orleans Book Fair (, one of the real highlights of the year, kicks off at 11:00 in the 500-600 blocks of Frenchmen St. I will be there with a full buffet of intellectually nourishing selections from Deep South Samizdat Books, as well as a selection of publications from contributors to the online journal Unlikely 2.0 (, edited by Jonathan Penton since 1998. The print anthology Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind was recently published, and several of the writers (including the aforementioned Michael Harold) will be