Friday, July 28, 2006

A Good Day

The chainsaw didn't arrive, so I used a large hacksaw on the felled tree's thick branches. Nice upper body workout. I have fresh respect for those in lumberjack competitions.

The dense humidity slowed me down, though. Twenty-five in my head but not in my legs. Doused myself with cold water after each branch broke away, splintered ends snapping quickly up. Dragged the things to the other side of the yard where they now sit, lush green brush waiting to be cleared. But I have no respect for presidents who do that, especially with the cameras rolling.

Had a light lunch of baguette pieces, sharp cheddar, and ripe tomato slices seasoned with ground pepper, salt and vinegar. Watched with the daughter part of the VH1 TV movie "Daydream Believers" about the rise and fall of The Monkees. Dreadful script, but the actors playing the pre-fab four were energetic and passable. The daughter asked about The Monkees' cultural relevance, if any, and we discussed the phenomenon of boy bands and whether or not one could find something of value in all that gloss and distraction. Being soft on The Monkees, I gave them a pass of sorts, while not being completely uncritical. Then I bemoaned the fact that I sat across the aisle from Peter Tork on a flight from LA to New York, and never approached the guy to chat. The daughter rolled her eyes. "Yeah Perrin, I know. You've told me this story before."

Quite.

Taking the advice of my wife and those of you who wrote in after yesterday's post, I've gone NO WAR! today -- just peeked at headlines to see that nothing's changed and is probably getting worse. It's nice to relax for once, though living deep in an imperial country, I have that luxury, unlike those running for their lives thanks in part to my and our tax dollars. The concern some of you showed in the past 24 truly touched me. Thanks. I'll be back to the grind next week, though I'm gonna focus on other topics, as promised. Did you know that I wrote a book about a humorist? And another one about sports? It's true! I've even placed punchlines in the mouths of comics and, yes, politicians. Funny how a little thing like Middle East war can grab you by the throat and pull you under the bloody water. I mean, it is funny, right?

Some music before I go.

I'm not a big Moody Blues fan, but this clip of them performing "Tuesday Afternoon" live on some show in the late-60s is in my head and I can't get it out. Not that I want to.



And here's NWA with their classic "Express Yourself" (remember when hip hop sampled Motown licks?). I played this once on WBAI New York when I hosted FAIR's weekly show, and the phonelines jammed with old lefties howling about "rap crap" and demanding to know why a media critic was broadcasting this. It's all in the song, sisters & brothers.



And finally -- The Monkees, from their album "Headquarters" on which they played their own instruments, "Randy Scouse Git," an anti-war song written and sung by Micky Dolenz.



Hey hey -- see you Mon.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pause

Taking a breather for a day or two. Recharging. God knows there'll be plenty to come back to.

Thanks to those who've contributed bucks. Like I said, I'm doing a lot of research and composition, and every dime helps to free extra time for more. So if you can, please do.

A reader asked that I post this. So I will. See you Mon.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Words Fail

Scenes from Lebanon.




















Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mindsets




Racists in the ranks. Tribes within the camo-tribe. Gangstas, bangers, hardcore mixers and strait-up thugz. All in uniform. All serving Sam. Some in Iraq. Most at home. Cause for alarm? Or business as usual?

There's been some online concern over the news that our recruitment-strapped military has been reduced to taking white supremacists and gang members of various hues. It is feared that their enlistment will affect unit morale, as well as give those already prone to violence added training in the use of firearms and explosives, which can be employed once they return to civilian life. All of this may be very well true. What to do about it -- if indeed anything can be done about it -- is a tangled problem and one I'm in no position to immediately address. I mean, apart from the military issuing We Are All One pronouncements on a regular basis, how can these seemingly fixed mindsets be altered? For some, daily exposure to people from unfamiliar areas of life might soften or undermine their racist or tribal outlooks, which is one of the benefits of integration. But for others, this type of exposure will merely harden their hatred and reinforce their tribal identities, for, sadly, that's just the way some people are wired. Their DNA stands for Do Not Assimilate.

While there may be a higher rate of racists and gangbangers in today's military (though how you accurately measure this escapes me), the fact that they are in uniform is nothing new. I experienced this reality in my first days of boot camp, where white kids from the sticks or sheltered suburbs were thrust into close contact with black kids from urban areas and brown kids from the barrio. Insults and fights were common early on, which were immediately broken up by our Drill Sergeants, who put the fear of raging Christ into some of these punks. Our DS's saw combat in Vietnam, so dealing with domestic knuckleheads was nothing to them. Barking at a buzz-headed trainee usually did the trick (and man, were these guys good -- melodic in their verbal assaults), but there were a few instances when a DS would physically challenge some large, dopey kid who fancied himself the toughest guy in his high school.

One DS in particular, who was maybe 5'7" in his boots, but served two tours of 'Nam with the 82nd Airborne, invited a bigger, racially obnoxious trainee to take a swing at him. The rest of us stood at parade rest in front of our bunks while the DS removed his rank from his collar and taunted this thug, who clearly felt the pressure to act, but remained frozen, unsure of what would happen if he did. It was perhaps the first time in his young life that he failed to react to such a challenge, because the look on his face as he backed down revealed a mix of fresh confusion and fear. The kid may not have liked black people, but he sure as fuck wasn't gonna push his hatred to the point of having a smaller man whip his ass all over the barracks. Our DS probably didn't change that kid's racist mind, but he kept him honest, and forced him to march with, run with, and clean M-16s with trainees of darker complexions. A hardass version of sensitivity training.

On active duty, I saw several examples of group segregation within our barracks, usually race-inspired. I got to know a white driver for the base commander, who was as spit-and-polish as they came, but once off-duty, and after a few beers, he freely shared his race theories, which revolved around how the Jews used Martin Luther King to turn blacks into communists, and thank God for James Earl Ray, a true American patriot. I'd never heard shit like this before, so when he invited me to his barracks room (we all lived in a dorm-like set-up) to hang with some of his buddies, I did, out of curiosity if nothing else. I lasted a half-hour, tops. A big Confederate flag covered one wall, and the room was decorated with various Dixie symbols. The other boys were well into a case of Bud as Alabama blasted from the stereo. It wasn't long before the nigger/Jew/faggot talk took off, and I drained a couple of brews, soaking in the scene. It was both sickening and fascinating. I'd been around racists before, but they were casual practitioners who didn't possess any kind of racial philosophy. That group of guys did, with one speaking favorably about the Klan and the need for white purity and unity. It was around that time I made my exit, which caused some consternation in the room, but I didn't care. Once you've seen the effects of inbreeding, the rest is raunchy entertainment. And by that point, I'd had my fill.

This experience was balanced somewhat with my longer exposure to a group of black nationalists who kept their views quieter than the white boys, but who, privately, were equally intense. Thing is, I actually enjoyed their company more, as their behavior was unlike anything I had yet experienced. I was brought into their circle by a guy named John, with whom I played hoops at the base gym. John and I got along really well, and one day, walking back to the barracks, he asked if I wanted meet a few of his friends. Soon I was in a room festooned in red, black and green, with incense smoke curling up past posters of Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and a large map of Africa, while a Last Poets album spun on the turntable, their revolution-laden rhymes tying the visuals together. John and I sat on a couch making small talk; a few minutes later, a couple of his friends entered and immediately flashed me nasty stares.

"What's with the white boy?" one asked John.

"Oh, the white boy's all right. He's cool."

"Yeah, well, I don't want him touching my shit."

John laughed. "What, you think he's gonna steal your shit?"

"He white, ain't he?"

Meanwhile, the white boy sat nervously still and smiled. I had never encountered such direct hostility, yet it was oddly clarifying, and with John there to smooth things out, I settled in while he and his pals talked about topics other than the white boy. After a few subsequent visits, over which time I was told of the many crimes the Caucasians had committed, the hostility ebbed to such a degree that some of these guys actually acknowledged me in public. But I was never as close to them as I was to John, who was transferred to West Germany just before I was discharged. I haven't seen or heard from him since.

Exposure to these and other groups inside the military taught me many valuable lessons, some of which I didn't fully comprehend until years later. The racist/gang mindset will always exist in one form or another, I'm very sorry to say, especially in the military, where young, disparate individuals are thrown together, usually for the first time. One can only hope that familiarity will breed, if not human solidarity, then at least a sense of tolerance and a desire to learn from each other. But that's just the first step. Understanding and reacting to the mindset of those who send grunts of all colors into the imperial meatgrinder might prove to be the most valuable lesson of all.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Summer Reading


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Break From The Madness

For this afternoon, anyway, and maybe some more tomorrow and Tues, before we return to our war crimes world. But for now, this scene from "Good Will Hunting," which I really relate to, as I've had similar experiences like this with assholes like that.