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Monday, September 27, 2010
Passaic Prosaic

  I like things with a good end-of-Summer vibe. Maybe not as much as things with a good beginning-of-Summer vibe, but you follow the season you're in. A good river story works in any season. From a small gem of a Friday afternoon radio show on WFMU, I got just that.

 Billy Jam's show on WFMU was done out at Rapp's boat house (Bill Rapp proprietor) on the Passaic river in Kearny New Jersey, a couple of miles up the Passaic, a couple of Fridays ago.  Billy Jam, natively Irish, like many WFMU Dj's seems possessed by a certain wanderlust, and will often do his show from seeming random points of the globe to spread the old school hip hop news. Have skype will travel.

 The point of the show was to have a sizable cast to speak to the theme at hand - the Passaic river.  This all necessitated two posts Looking for dead bodies in the Passaic with X-Ray & Wheeler and Put the Needle, the Baseball Bat and the Canoe, in the River...  on the WFMU "Beware of the Blog" plus the photo-laden archive of the show itself September 10, 2010: Dirty Jersey : Live from the banks of Passaic River in Kearny. There were New Jersey's two Marks -- the people responsible for all the Weirdness -- [their website: - HOME].  I have the Maryland book. PG county has a contribution to that, the "hook-man" legend. Which either inspired, or was inspired by the Half Japanese song "Thing with a Hook". I've always been unclear on that. I think the Mothership is supposed to be in lost in PG county somewhere too. On hand too was Wheeler Antebenez, Wheeler Antabanez - Wikipedia, pen-name of a New Jersey writer photographer and camicaze canoeist. All of these things in the tradition of a Thoreau of course.  There was Kearney native, resident and WFMU DJ X Ray Burns. He brought an eyewitness account of the burning baseball bat factory to the game. His elementary school was built on the grounds of the original Kearny mansion. There were a couple of graffiti artists there, to give the urban landscape as canvas, perspective. Also Diane of the Tuesday show "Diane's Kamikaze fun machine",  to engineer the whole thing, and provide a list of New Jersey punk bands from the '80's. Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the band she was in. Diane is to thank for the second playing of the Electric Six song. "I belong in a Factory" off of last years "Kill" Billy played it Friday and Diane played it again the following Tuesday on her own show. It's been my favorite song since, all month, but I'm just one of the Busy Bees buzzing in time to the one two threes .. todays angry youth ain't angry enough for me..  I'm being all that I can be, on a working man's salary.


 There were enough towns in eastern Massachusetts like Kearny that I felt at home in the transmitted ambiance of tales of old Kearny. The town consists of many things, yarn and thread factories (Holliston had a shoe factory, Plymouth a rope factory), not least there is the man who lent his name to the town:  One dashing but possibly mad cavalry general Philip Kearny. Sent to France in the 1830s by the Army to learn cavalry techniques. He came back and wrote the US Army's book on cavalry operations. He left the Army because he felt he was not seeing enough action. Rejoined to fight in the Mexican war under his uncle Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, where he lost an arm to cannon fire before the gates of Mexico City. History does not appear to record whether he thought he had seen enough action then. For some reason Mckeldin Library does not have a copy of his biography Kearny the Magnificent. After a divorce he married a much younger woman and left New York society for a mansion he built on the bluffs of the Passaic. Soon; however, he was again fighting in europe in the Army of Napoleon III. I am a little mystified here, Napoleon III's empire I believe was the same empire he fought in Mexico [actually Napoleon III's intrigues in Mexico using Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Max occurred some years latter]. Kearny died early in the Civil War shot off his horse by a confederate picket while attempting individual reconnaissance. Stonewall Jackson died almost a year later in near identical circumstance.    

 The best story of the show was the Exploding Baseball Bat Factory. Not their design function mind you. Back in 1989 the American Aluminum Extraction Co. hard by the Passaic embankment, caught fire and burned down. Apparently aluminum bats explode and shoot off like rockets if they get hot enough. Who knew.  I was impressed enough by that tale, that I watched the Weird NJ YouTube channel tubeisode of the Marks and X Ray Burns poking about the ruin of the old factory; shooting video with a extremely ordinary and expendable digital camera, not unlike the GE 950 I picked up for $50 (video and sound - will take as large a SD card as they make). Brilliant move! I thought. if you're knocking about abandons and ruins with a touch of trespass here and there, you don't want to be trying to outrun dogs, cops or crackheads lugging a Sony VX2100.  High def? Forget it, it's just YouTube Jake.

 On a related notion I should put up a post some time of the pictures I took of the inside of the sand dune that saved Philadelphia from the Bismarck.  Another of Kearny's features (South Kearny) was a Federal ship yard prominent in the nation's defense history, the buildings from the 1940's are still there, where they built numerous World War Two warships; cruisers and destroyers. Many of which, the cruiser USS Juneau notably, were sunk later during the war.

  I don't think I have an ending for this, I'm not sure it really wants it. I'm going with a few minutes of random thinking, while I check.

 The Electric Six started out calling themselves the Wild Bunch. I think that's a Sam Peckinpaw movie. They found out it was taken. I guess they could have called themselves the Magnificent Seven, but that's seven -- they would have been one off. They could have hired someone I suppose. I'm putting the needle down on Nick Drake's "Riverman" while I try to think of something here. Was it Roy Harper who did that cover of "Both Sides Now?" Dave Von Ronk maybe? Well him too, but no I think it's Davey Graham I'm thinking of. The Standells did the original "Dirty Water" - The song that Billy Jam and all the others ended the show by singing, That was about the Charles River in Boston wannit? The Charles oozes up out of the ground about a mile or so from where I grew up. I like the Real Kids, whether they call themselves that or the Taxi Boys -- as long as "Up is Up." I saw a news item that a Maureen Tucker down in Georgia is an outspoken Tea Partier. Mo Tucker, really? I saw two stories on this, both fellow traveling under the headline "All Tomorrows Tea-Partys". A-ha, I get it. "Oh it hurts to know that that kind of fellow is a Newspaper Joe. Dropped his teeth on the floor, caught his hand in the door. Guess that's the way the news goes..." 

11:39:07 PM    ;;

Thursday, September 16, 2010
Obama at Halftime

  The American Political Science Association held a seminar the other week. 4-5 September . Discussing Obama, the midterms, and electorate attitude The polarizing president - Much of the discussion focused on the President's falling confidence among the people. I got pretty much what I expected from Barack Obama as President, because I took him simply to be the man he was and not a symbol of one thing or another. A lawyer, (a law school professor) a pragmatist by nature and conviction. A man whose social conscious was expressed not in grandiose or utopian schemes but in the concrete straits of community organizing. He is a man who has broad experience of different places inside and outside of the "contiguous US". What we used to call the lower 48. You can't really count Hawaii, or Alaska. And Texas? A place that has actually left the United States twice. Texas cannot in any reasonable fashion legitimately claim to be a genuine part of America. I count the man's geographical awareness his thoughtfulness as a plus. People who have no experience with the world outside tend to view it as a collection of small uninteresting places arranged in ancillary fashion at the periphery of our borders.

 From Haley Barbour, Mississippi Governor and form RNC chair, there was apparently the parochial comment: "We know less about Barack Obama than any other President in History..." This is a willful blindness. Any one who picked up either of his books, or simply listened to him would know him as well as they wanted to. The point is taken; though, a man like Obama will always seem an enigma to a good-old-boy like Haley Barbour.

  Hope and change, which as gotten some people bothered on all sides, is a campaign slogan to be sure. If any one doubts the basic sincerity the proof is in the pudding. Change is from the ways of previous administration. It's why I voted for him. He pursued bi-partisanism to a fault, he gets no credit for it, but I will remember. His "Hope" is no different in its inherent meaning than Reagan's Morning in America Campaign. A belief in that America has the resolve it needs to get beyond multitudes of adversity, His victory exemplifies that. The other side of his nature is a tendency towards deliberation, towards consensus. In a job like the Presidency it is difficult to strike the balance between discussion and decision. In such driven circumstance ordinary framing will result in the appearance of indecision.  

 I don't share the attitude of progressives who can not understand why once in office the President did not enact the entirety of their program by dictate. Or those who disappointed because somehow, some everything did not change. His victory was a solid win on any accounting 53 to 47 percent of the popular vote, but that only gives 6 points right across an ever shifting middle. There were majorities in the House and in the Senate, but not a plurality. The Presidency gives a fair amount of power. Still outside of a few signature pieces of legislature usually enacted early on most of the change and mission occurs on the margins. The presidency does not confer magical or authoritarian powers to lead past or eliminate the desires of half the population. What it gives is the biggest podium in the land, power to persuade, and the leverage of future elections he and his party may lose.

 Two books have been written recently about the tea party The backlash : right-wing radicals, hi-def hucksters, and paranoid politics in the age of Obama (Book, 2010)  , and Boiling mad : inside Tea Party America (Book, 2010) [] both reviewed in in this slate article Are members of the Tea Party more angry or more gullible? - By David Weigel - Slate Magazine. I prefer to think of it as a Mad hatters tea party than a Boston Tea party. I'm a native of Massachusetts  It may be the autumn of the Tea Party's discontent, but Sam Adams shrugs and orders another Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. The primary thesis of these books is that this is a spontaneous movement generally well intentioned and thoroughly libertarian in its make-up. And, in that, generally older male middle-class and white. It is not a political party, more of a mood, a garrulous one. The least of its dark sides is that it is a politics steeped in resentment. An antipathy towards government -- big government -- that reflects an awareness that they may no longer be the biggest and well-tabled player. Bunch's more trenchant criticisms point out that the movement is shot through with hucksters, loose cash and many looking for a bandwagon to claw their way onto.

 While tea party's candidates and spokesmen like to dismiss the race baiting sign wavers as an unwelcome fringe. They are always there - at every rally and convention. And they are never not there. Whatever they represent this set belongs to this movement. As does the dog whistle politics of Racism. Overt on Muslims, and Hispanics, pitched up high but not out of hearing on African Americans

 From the New York Times to Morning Edition to Diane Rehm a question travels: Where is the Tea Party's money is coming from. The answer seems to be from a handful of the extremely wealthy The billionaire Koch brothers' war against Obama : The New Yorker  liberated by Citizens United followed distantly by a set of small funders who are also the visible face of the tea party and skew heavily older middle class white and male as the real funders skew towards billionaires Billionaires give 91 percent of funds for Rove-tied group - Republican Party - It is not exactly a faux grass roots movement nor does it entirely escape from that either.

 People want change, but they don't want any of their good things to change. The battle cry of the discontented generally has been "throw (the other) bums out".  No individual, party or movement has come forward with a plan to take charge of controlling the federal budget. Making hard choices and defending these from fully franchised populations. The anti-tax crowd is doing nothing of the sort. They are merely defunding the government, it is emphatically not the same thing. There is no one there interested in assuming the least responsibility for what happens next. Budget cutting is prone to a rule. I call it the ten percent rule. If you took a simplified form of the current state of the Federal budget and arranged for everyone to rank it as a preference series. Select ten percent to get a little more, ten percent to be safe from cuts, ten percent to be cut way back, ten percent to be eliminated, and so on. Then you took and aggregated the results, it would be very much like the Federal budget we have. Even if you played that game just among the Tea Party you would get a budget recognizable to the one that exists. Because everyone has their own needs and criteria. Everyone knows someone in the military, space program, who builds highways, likes highways, or who has a chronic medical condition beyond individual means.

 The primaries of 14 September and their result seemed to open a lot of eyes Are members of the Tea Party more angry or more gullible? - By David Weigel - Slate Magazine. At least it provoked a lot of discussion. The result most discussed; Christine O'Donnell's win in the Delaware republican Senate primary had been apparent for a couple of weeks, but with the votes counted it was no longer possible to dismiss the Tea Party's ability to change the nature of the midterm elections Christine O'Donnell's big win in Delaware sends message to Republican establishment.  The press has found it difficult to write about. It is a social media Frankenstein's monster. Loose pieces loosely joined. No clear leadership, no confirmation to reportoral thinking that there is, in fact, a single thing there. Only a deep dissatisfaction longing for robust change The Tea Party movement has two defining traits: status anxiety and anarchism. - By Jacob Weisberg. If there is something unique to this round of disquiet, it lies in peoples willingness to torch even their own congress critters. A desire for a different kind of politics. Perhaps a failure of education; a misunderstanding of what politics is. A non-understanding of the true size, depth and history of the nation.

 Richard Hofstadter a historian active in the 1950's and 60's wrote about what he saw as a re-occuring and persistent strain of American politics. In his article reproduced here The American Scholar - The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt and which was the subject of a Metafilter thread at the time The Real Historical Roots of the Tea Party? | MetaFilter he writes of his regard that this political inclination (McCarthysim at the time he was writing) is not a true conservatism. Its appeal too broad, its message mixed to the point of being "incoherent." Too needy, too based on sloppy emotionalism namely fear, suspicion of betrayal to be a conservative movement. In a passage that illuminate the discontents fixation on immigration status he writes 

 However, a number of developments in our recent history make this pseudo-conservative uprising more intelligible. For two hundred years and more, various conditions of American development  the process of continental settlement, the continuous establishment in new areas of new status patterns, the arrival of continuous waves of new immigrants, each pushing the preceding waves upward in the ethnic hierarchy  made it possible to satisfy a remarkably large part of the extravagant status aspirations that were aroused. There was a sort of automatic built-in status-elevator in the American social edifice. Today that elevator no longer operates automatically, or at least no longer operates in the same way.
 Secondly, the growth of the mass media of communication and their use in politics have
brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of
entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved. Thus it has become, more
than ever before, an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. Mass communications have aroused the mass man.
  There is his consideration that its greatest potential danger (for he seems to view it as being largely harmless) is being co-opted for the rich and unscrupulous for their own purposes.
However, in a populistic culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.

 Which he picked also up on in the later essay The paranoid style in American politics - [PDF]   ...In recent years we have seen much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. [Both essays collected in The Paranoid Style in American Politics : and Other Essays. (Book, 2008) [] ]

 President Obama himself did not call this Tea Party into being but since he is there, the symbolic assault of a black man taking up residence in the executive mansion signally is their Demi Urge. It has taken the President out of the equation for the midterm elections throwing the democratic party back on itself, and consequences that a greater legislative unity over the last two years could have spared them from.

11:56:08 PM    ;;

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