Friday, March 25, 2011

The Minutemen

I have never defined myself as a punk, as in punk rocker. In fact when punk ("that howling brat left on the doorstep") first appeared, I took great pleasure in ridiculing it and insulating myself with Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, and others.

But I had this girlfriend who, shall we say, straightened me out. Gave me to understand that the generalized disgust and contempt for the world, expressed in a lot of punk, dovetailed with my own sometimes snarling worldview.

"After all," she said, "this is the stuff of our generation."

And so I opened up my ears and my mind.

One of the bands I got into for a time was the Minutemen. I wasn't a huge fan, never saw them perform, none of that. But there were a smattering of songs I liked a lot.

But the years went by, as they do, and I forgot about most of this. Still listened, still kept my ears open. My generation began to get flabby, and sag; to get gray; and in some horrifying instances grow truly conservative.

A couple of years ago I joined Netflix. Netflix has this sometimes annoying feature where they recommend movies to you: If you liked this, then you might like this. Of course they just want you to keep renting stuff.

One day, a recommendation for a documentary called We Jam Econo showed up on my Netflix account. Full title: We Jam Econo, The Story of the Minutemen. "I remember those guys!" I thought, with a gentle wave of nostalgia.

By then I had pieced together the fact that a Minutemen song called "Corona" was used in a movie called Jackass. I don't know anything about Jackass, but I don't think Netflix will ever recommend it to me. Not my cup of tea. My kid likes it though. He's fifteen.

Anyway I rented We Jam Econo. The fact is that I hadn't thought of, or heard about, the Minutemen in many years, and knew almost nothing about them. But I watched the film with great interest.

Partway through the viewing, I noticed that many of the references to D. Boon, the Minutemen's guitar player (the heavy guy in the above video), were in the past tense. And sure enough, the film concludes with D. Boon's death – in an automobile accident in 1985.

By the time I heard about it more than twenty years had passed. I still felt awful, though – one of those pieces of bad news that lingers for days. D. Boon and Minutemen bass player Mike Watt were best friends from the time they were about twelve. The whole death sequence is really heartbreaking.

Watt is still around. He's on Facebook, has a web page, and performs sometimes with Iggy Pop, among others.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Lennon

The above editorial cartoon appeared in the nation's press right after John Lennon got shot.

We have yet to stop that little handgun. In the years since, it's had many successful opportunities to kill again.

For a long time after Lennon's murder I didn't quite believe he was dead. I knew he was, of course. But on some deep emotional level I couldn't quite swallow it.

Then, on the twentieth anniversary of the murder, I saw an article in the paper, one of those vox populi articles quoting a lot of ordinary people. And one of them said the same thing: she didn't quite believe he was dead. She knew he was, but on some personal, gut level had never quite accepted it.

So it wasn't only me. And as it turned out, just reading that someone else felt the same way had the effect of curing me. When the thirtieth anniversary rolled around last December, all that lingering doubt, or shock, or whatever, was long gone.

The sadness sure remains.

Sometimes the sadness comes back to me, usually after hearing one of the Double Fantasy songs – in particular, “Watching the Wheels.” That line, “I tell them there’s no hurry” always gets me. Kills me, as it were.
John Lennon would be seventy years old now. He should be writing the songs of a seventy-year-old.

And he would be, except for that damnable little handgun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Puppy Bath

My daughter and I paid a visit to the local Humane Society yesterday, where we have volunteered on a regular basis for the last five years or so. In a typical visit we'll walk a few dogs, say hello to a few cats, and if we're lucky play with some rats.

Not this time. Instead we met four black lab puppies...puppies in desperate need of a bath.
Cleaned-up pup

All four puppies were backfiring, copiously and loosely, due to a case of roundworms and the treatment to get rid of them.

Roundworms are parasites that get into and live in a dog's intestines, and – yuk – consume partially digested food (Puppy Chow, for instance). They really are round, and are three to five inches in length.

The idea in the treatment is to have the dogs blast them out in their stool.

"Stool." Such a nice, acceptable word for a delicate subject. Technically it is not a euphemism. At least, I don't think it is.

These pups were smeared with their own stool. We noticed it immediately: on the dogs, and pooling unmistakably on the kennel floor. I got a big roll of paper towels, went into the kennel, and wiped it up as best I could.

It was a nasty job requiring a lot of paper towels. "If this is the worst thing that happens to me today," I thought, "then it probably won't be too bad of a day."

It became apparent that wiping up the floor wouldn't be enough. The pups had romped around in the muck and got it all over everything, including me. Yeah, it was pretty gross.

A Humane Society employee asked if we'd mind giving the pups a bath. There was no one else available. While we had the puppies out of the kennel, she said, another employee would come along and mop it out.

My daughter is a natural-born helper and lover of all animals. She did not need to be asked twice.

And so, one at a time, we took each puppy to a room with a big metal basin, and washed them down. We had bottles of shampoo and a big stack of thick terrycloth towels.

The puppies never stopped wriggling but didn't mind their baths all that much. On the other hand they hadn't seemed to mind being smeared in shit, either.

Once a pup was finished, we took it out to a fenced-in area while the scouring of their kennel continued. (I say "it" because we never noticed the pups' genders – and it didn't really matter since each animal had been "fixed" – which is definitely a euphemism.)

Not long after we got the puppies out in the fenced-in area they began to backfire again, and slop each other up.

All that work...!

Please check out these puppy pictures from an earlier blog post.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let Justice Be Done

Let Justice Be Done, William Davy's groundbreaking study of the Jim Garrison investigation in the late 1960s, is now available in Kindle/e-book format.

First published in 1999, Let Justice Be Done offered new documentation of a relationship between Clay Shaw, the target of Garrison's prosecution, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

You don't need a Kindle to read the new version, Davy says. "Just download the Kindle reader app for free from my Amazon site."

Let Justice Be Done documents "a more than casual relationship between Shaw" and the CIA. Shaw's reports to the Agency (as a "domestic contact") began as early as 1948, and continued into the 1960s.

One CIA document refers to a covert security clearance for Shaw. Former CIA officer Victor Marchetti told Mr. Davy that such a clearance indicates Shaw worked for Clandestine Services, possibly its Domestic Operations Division – "one of the most secret divisions within the Clandestine Services."

Garrison charged Shaw with taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate JFK. From the beginning Shaw maintained his innocence, and indeed a jury rapidly acquitted him. Though he was arrested and charged in 1967, the trial did not take place until 1969. William Davy shows how, between arrest and trial, the defense benefitted from an unprecedented media blitz in support of the accused, and how the prosecution was infiltrated and compromised after Garrison's investigation became public knowledge. It now seems plain, with years of hindsight, that Jim Garrison never stood a chance.

The e-book edition of Let Justice Be Done contains the complete text of the original, which is now out of print.

Hear William Davy interviewed on Black Op Radio March 17, 2011. (Click on the link and find Show #518.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011


As this is written, the outcome in Japan remains uncertain. Rocked by a massive earthquake and tsunami less than one week ago, a nuclear plant there is on the brink of total meltdown. At least three of its reactors have had partial meltdowns. The entire facility is close to a catastrophe such as the world has never seen.

And yet – and yet – already I am hearing the siren song of insanity. A scientist interviewed yesterday on NPR (whose own future is uncertain) said the biggest obstacle we face when it comes to nuclear power is fear.

That's right, fear. Not a nuclear holocaust, but fear itself.

This scientist has been studying the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster some twenty-five years ago. He says the region's flora and fauna is showing radiation levels far lower than anyone anticipated.

Furthermore, he noted that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, countless women around Chernobyl terminated pregnancies out of fear of what radiation exposure might do to their unborn children. But a later study of women whose pregnancies went full term, he said, showed no significant increase in birth defects or other abnormalities.

So that was yesterday's report. Today I heard another report on NPR about newer designs of nuclear plants. These newer designs are much safer, some expert said. They don't rely on water to cool the reactor rods like older plants do – such as the plant in Japan. In a situation like the present one, these new designs would take up to five days for the plant to reach dangerously overheated levels.

Blah blah blah. Such a brave new world we live in.

None of this addresses the issue of nuclear waste, or the utter insanity of building such potentially dangerous facilities in areas of great seismic activity.

Nor does it address how on earth NPR, or any other media outlet, could entertain the notion of safer plants at a time when the fate of Japan's plant is unknown.

If somehow we manage to dodge this bullet and avoid a total meltdown, we need to completely re-assess the future of nuclear power. This issue has been dormant for years, but it's about to re-assert itself. I fear it will take a catastrophe of unthinkable magnitude to restore some sense of sanity – if it isn't too late.

Monday, March 14, 2011

We're All Doomed (a guitar story)

I've always been drawn to the classical guitar, so one day I went out and bought one. Not a great one: a low-end Yairi, definitely a factory guitar, but with a pretty good sound – nice warm tone, and so on.

I began taking lessons, too. The hardest part was getting used to holding it in the proper position. (Note my hunched form in the accompanying photo!)

I'd already been playing for a lot of years, but since making the switch I've never looked back. I began reading all about classical guitars in addition to playing one. I wish I'd taken better notes, because I remember coming across a very astute observation but have no idea where I read it. (Usually I'm a stickler for citations.)

That observation, in sum, is that all guitarists are doomed to die believing we could be at least a little bit better on our chosen instrument.

It sure is true for me. Even now, after years of playing, I tend to over-reach – to start work on a piece that is too complicated for my abilities. I should be able to play this, I think. I should still be getting better.

It's good to challenge yourself. It's a good way to learn, to stretch. On the other hand (my fretboard hand?), Chet Atkins said you should know your limitations, and accept them.

In the years since switching to classical I have upgraded from the Yairi to a much nicer guitar, a handmade instrument from an Oklahoma luthier named Arnold Hennig. I got rid of my old steel string and twelve string, and with great reluctance, my electric guitar (see Crash Dummy's Guitar, in the January 2011 section of this blog.)

But make no mistake. I'm an amateur, and cling to that status whether I like it or not. I have nothing but great admiration for real musicians, and I've known a few over the years.

Regardless of my skill level, though, I am doomed to die believing I could and should be a better guitar player.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 11: A Second Bag

Whenever I see litter in a parking lot, or along a sidewalk, or just about anywhere else, I pick it up. I hate litter – and I mean hate.

I've been on an ardent anti-litter campaign for about a year now. Sometimes I Google keywords like "litter" or "trash," just to see what comes up. The word "litter" brought back lot of material about kitty litter.

Recently I found a comment from a woman whose intolerance for litter resembles my own. "I can't understand," she wrote, "why people won't stop for fifteen minutes to clean up a littered area."

Well, I can understand why. It really slows down a good walk, or a good bike ride.
One Day's Haul
That's why I came up with my strategy of picking up at least some litter every time I'm out walking. Usually I pick up a lot more. There's an expression that's relevant here – something about leaving a place nicer than the way you found it.

During my walks it's easy to fill a plastic bag with litter. The bags I take are standard grocery store shopping bags. When I fill one, I feel like I've met an obligation.

By the time I'd reached the halfway point of my walk today, the bag was full. I could pass by any further litter with a clean conscience. It would probably just fall back out, anyway.

Then I came across a discarded grocery store shopping bag. So I picked it up and used it for the balance of my walk.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Litterbugs, Part 10: Zug Island

Just feast your eyes: this blot on the landscape is Zug Island, an industrial wasteland on the Detroit River. I took this picture a number of years back when I lived in Detroit, and lucked into a helicopter ride around town.

To me, Zug Island represents environmental abuse on a massive scale. It says much about what humans have done, and are still doing, to our delicate planet.

Zug Island gets its name from Samuel Zug, who bought the land in the mid-nineteenth century. He intended to build an estate there, and it was probably quite nice back then. But near the end of the century, according to Wikipedia, Zug sold the land "to industries that wanted it as a dumping ground."

And that is what it became.

The air quality around Zug Island is said to be very poor. In published reports in 2000, people living in the area complained of a "rancid odor that permeates their living spaces and causes nausea, headaches and dry heaves. The grass and trees in surrounding neighborhoods are dying and there is rust-colored dust on the streets, homes and cars."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing: Inspire Me

The following is a re-post of something inadvertently deleted...

“There are three rules for writing the novel,” Somerset Maugham once said. “Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”

I find this inspiring.

Whimsical, certainly. But earnest and inspiring nonetheless.

Erica Jong shared the Maugham quote in her memoir Seducing the Demon five or six years back. She also came up with some rules on writing – twenty of them – such as, "Get the reader to turn the page."

Others rules include "Use everything," and the Zen-like "Be a beginner." But getting the reader to turn the page, she says, is all that really matters.

I've been working on a novel for about a year and a half. It may not be a page-turner, but I thought it was coming along okay. Now I'm not so sure.

Last fall I recruited six people to read a draft. Each lives afar, and most got a copy by email. The results have been instructive, and a little discouraging.

Three of these readers responded with complete and utter silence. Their lack of a reply allows for a wide range of interpretation. They hated it, I could think (and have). They thought it was a complete piece of shit – so bad they didn't know how to break this worst of possible news.

Or it could mean I had asked too big a favor from people who don't owe me a thing.

Or that reading it was one of those tasks easily set aside, and days became weeks that became months that became never.

One interpretation is as valid as the next.

There is an enormous temptation to dismiss them all outright.

To their credit, three other recruits actually gave me the feedback I sought. Two of them were positive – too positive. They had almost nothing bad to say, so their remarks did me no good at all. I'm not so naive as to think the book is done, or that there is no room for improvement.

The third of these readers, though, was something else.

This person had read an earlier draft last summer, and of that draft had some positive comments, along with constructive criticism.

Not so this time. No, this time she was furious.

The novel's subject matter involves a controversial event in American history. And this reader concluded that some of my narrator's observations added up to a grave injustice to real, living people.

"My hands are shaking," she wrote at the start of her first reply. There followed an itemized list of my sins, and a day or so later, an additional email attacking me with very creative, very vile slurs.

Next she phoned me, but by then I'd had enough and hung up on her.

Some of her comments were useful, some less so. But the upshot is that I have one less friend in this big ugly world – for while I can take criticism, I will not stand for gratuitous insults.

All of this – the lack of a response by some, the middlin' praise from a few, volcanic rage from another – has stopped me only temporarily. Those useful comments I mentioned can be applied to subsequent drafts, and the result will be an improved manuscript.

But I have strayed. I began writing about inspiration and drifted into the hinterlands of the inevitable setback.

Since what I'm working on is my first novel, I need all the encouragement and inspiration I can get. I actually keep a Word file with a series of choice quotations that I find inspiring. I don't look at them much anymore, because by now I've got some momentum going. But they can be useful, a creative aphrodesiac; in a word, inspiring.

So I'll share a few.

In a memoir called The Facts, Philip Roth wrote, "The facts have always been notebook jottings, my way of springing into fiction. For me, as for most novelists, every genuine imaginative event begins down there, with the facts, with the specific, and not with the philosophical, the ideological, or the abstract."

Invoking Seducing the Demon once more, Erica Jong said, "The novel is endlessly elastic. It can take all sorts of playfulness and switches in perspective and still be a novel. In the last few decades it has merged into the memoir (or the memoir has flowed into it). Poems can be part of a novel."

In Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, Jane Smiley wrote, "Now that you have decided to begin your novel, you may congratulate yourself. You have not been asked or groomed to write a novel. You have not gone to novel-writing school, nor taken a standard curriculum of preparatory courses. Chances are, no one wants you to write your novel – if they say they do, they are just meaning that you should get it over with or get on with it. The people you know actually dread reading the novel you are about to write – they don’t want to read about themselves, they don’t want to be bored, and they fear embarrassment for everyone. You are, therefore, free."

These quotes have, in effect, given me permission to do what I want to do on the page. I have a raft of them. But I'll share just one more, one of my favorites.

It comes from Malachy McCourt, speaking on Democracy Now!, on the occasion of the death of his brother Frank.

"Never judge [your work]. You’ll find it guilty."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Notes on Chiropractic

A few years ago I suffered excruciating back pain – a deep, relentless pain of unknown origin. I could almost feel my vertebrae shifting as I walked. It got so bad that one day in a grocery store I had to lean against the shopping cart, and use it like a walker.

So I went to a chiropractor.

I believe in chiropractic care. The spine, after all, is a support beam that bears a heavy load; regular servicing is a must. Sure enough, after just a few appointments my mysterious back pain vanished. I still see this chiropractor for what she calls "maintenance" adjustments.

Yet a part of me remains skeptical about chiropractic. My previous chiropractor, a certain Dr. Quackenbush, is largely to blame for this lingering skepticism.

The first time I went to her I was shown a video extolling the virtues of chiropractic care. It felt like a hard sell, which turned me off. The video included images of a baby's birth, a poor infant being brutally tugged by the neck into this wicked world. The message was clear enough: from the moment we're born, our necks (and spines) are pulled out of whack by the way we live.

Nine visits out of ten Dr. Quackenbush tried to sell me snake oil – herbal treatments of dubious value at extraordinarily inflated prices. At first I fell for it. Then I went on full alert, sensing total chicanery deserving the epithet quack. Finally I wised up and stopped going.

But I like my present chiropractor. I see her every six weeks, and her adjustments help a lot. As an added bonus I'm usually in and out of her highly efficient office in less than ten minutes.

I situate myself face-down on what's called a drop table, a specialized piece of equipment with sections that drop down to aide spinal adjustment. The chiro applies a series of thrusts intended to re-position misaligned vertebrae.

That's my understanding, anyway.

She also uses an instrument called an activator, which gives a series of very precise flicks to the body. I'm skeptical of this device – but it's harmless, so what the hell. It is mostly used on soft tissues. The chiro recently began using an electric activator over the old manual. It gives these rapid-fire flicks, and sounds like a woodpecker.

This must seem like a lukewarm testimonial, and I suppose it is. But I believe in chiropractic care, and am convinced it cured my aching back, along with a few other complaints. It has its limitations, though, which some practitioners exceed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The UK

“Shiver me timbers!”

That's what I’m inclined to say when I do the math, and calculate how long ago it was I traveled to England as an ignorant, smartass, know-it-all 18-year-old.

The mere fact I'm keeping the numbers to myself should tell you I'm getting sensitive about becoming an old guy.

Jolly Old England. Went with a couple of friends and had a grand old time. This was during the early stages of my notorious Reckless Youth period.

We gawked at a genuine Beethoven score in the British Museum, checked out Piccadilly Circus, saw a bunch of castles, and savoured many a pub. I discovered McEwan's Bitter, a very smooth and flavourful pale ale.

One night we were into our evening pints in a pub in Inverness, Scotland, when in walked a fellow who appeared to have been tarred and feathered. He was getting married soon, and described how he'd been pranked by his mates, who were with him. They all laughed and ordered beer. It was August; aside from the chocolate syrup (not tar) and feathers, all this bloke had on was underwear, work boots, and a ball and chain around his ankles.

Before Inverness we spent some time in Edinburgh. One night we slept in a hilly area in the middle of the city. All I remember, aside from being cold, is a big hill called Arthur's Seat. Early the next morning we hiked into the city and sat, bedraggled, on a bench. A few minutes after the picture at right was taken, a cop came by and told us to move along.

I remember time on the Isle of Skye, and Nottingham, and madcap antics in London.

A long time ago!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

JFK: Praise from a Future Generation – the blog

Praise from a Future Generation (Wings Press, 2007) is a nonfiction account of the earliest critics of the Warren Report, written by Yours Truly and published a little over three years ago.

I wrote Praise from a Future Generation with a wide audience in mind. Unfortunately, it never found one. I still believe its story deserves wide attention – if not my particular telling of it.

After publication I set up a Praise blog but never kept up with it. For the most part it's been an empty, inactive site. It isn't likely anyone even knows about it but me!

Not long ago I apparently wrote – somewhere in the vastness of cyberspace – that I felt "burned out" by the issue of the assassination. Someone noticed what I'd written, and said something on one of the JFK forums. I read the remarks and commented. A few counter-comments followed, and I rather enjoyed the exchange.

I am not without things to say about the Kennedy case – especially as its fiftieth anniversary draws ever closer. (If you've read this far, perhaps you are interested in the subject, too.) I write compulsively anyway, so I've decided to resume the Praise blog.

Whatever I may have written elsewhere, I'm not burned out on the JFK case. I am, however, sick to death of those who maintain their pathetic efforts to validate the lone nut lie, and refuse to dignify their bullshit with any response beyond calling it what it is.

Please check out the Praise blog. I promise to at very least make the prose lively. With a little luck it will be interesting from time to time. Maybe I'll even piss a few people off.

In addition to the Praise blog, the book has an official web site.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Incinerator Protest

Environmental abuse is all too common on this planet – even now, when we live in a supposedly more enlightened, "green" era.

The story I'm telling here is way old, but worth telling. It takes place in Motown, a city I moved from about twenty years back. It is possible that what I'm about to describe has been settled to the betterment of all, especially the environment.
Note the predicted year of Earth's demise.
The story concerns an incinerator built by the City of Detroit in the late 1980s. There was a lot of concern it would belch massive amounts of filthy, perhaps toxic crud into the air.

Breathe deep.
One day a lot of people showed up to demonstrate their displeasure with this monstrous facility, seen in the background in the above photo.

I showed up too – in part to demonstrate my displeasure, and in part to get what I hoped would be some interesting photographs.

I managed to do both.
Like I said, it's been many years, and some of the details escape me. The protest must have got some advance publicity, based on how many demonstrators showed up.

There were quite a few cops on hand, too, protecting the integrity and good name of the incinerator.
Note the Greenpeace banner at far left.

The two sides watched each other for a while. I suppose each viewed the other as an enemy, or opponent.

See that cop in about the center of the frame, with her hands behind her back? I always imagine her saying, "Jasper? I don't much like the looks of this crowd."
The crowd was angry but peaceful. See the kids in the little red wagon in the foreground? No matter how committed, no parent would bring small children to an event like this if there was a chance of violence.

Assuming they weren't nuts, that is.
Inevitably, some of the demonstrators had to demonstrate.

See the photographer at left? I had a crush on her. I used to go to many public events like this, wherever I sensed good photo ops – and there she would be. I never learned her name, or even where she worked. It was just one of those, "Ooo, there's that cute woman again!"

Yes, I was still single then.
Meanwhile, the cops said, "Oh, no you don't!" and moved in.

Looks like my would-be girlfriend got some good shots.
At least one person got arrested.
Things began to get a little crazy at this point. Note the object of my desire in the center of the picture, in sunglasses.
Even though there were a lot of Detroit cops with guns and billyclubs and the authority to arrest people, I sensed no danger.

In fact, I had a lot of fun, holding up my camera and shooting wildly.

For a while it was like slam dancing.
Say no more.