Archive for December, 2007

  • Rob Spectre
  • 26
  • Dec
  • 07

In yet another in a nauseating line of observations detailing the differences between the East and West Coasts of these supremely continental United States, I’ve uncovered some significant differences in punctuation. With the 2004 election as firm evidence, Midwestern opinion should be regarded rightly with the same authority as The Holy Bible – antiquated, materially suspect, and of only peripheral concern to modern reality. It is in that jaundiced font of judgment that we find our latest installment of contrast we find a telling difference in punctuation.

The State submits the following as Exhibits A and B respectively:

Redneck: Where you at now, Rob?

Rob: Providence.

Redneck: Oh really?

Redneck: Where you at now, Rob?

Rob: San Francisco.

Redneck: Oh really.

Coming from California elicits the same level of concern from the average Kansan as admission of a felony conviction. In the first case, there is a question of genuine interest and curiosity. In the second, there is a dismissal; an intentional attempt to disengage further contact for fear of infection. The conversation, of course, continues:

Redneck: How do you like Providence?

Rob: I love it.

Redneck [smile and sigh of relief]: Good.

Redneck: How do you like California?

Rob: I hate it.

Redneck [smile and sigh of relief]: Good.

Not that I was ever one to give much consideration to what the folks back in Kansas think, the difference is telling indeed. Whenever I told folks I lived in New England, they always talked about the Patriots or the Red Sox or the history or the coffee or anything really to get a description about a world they had always heard about. Whenever I tell folks I live in San Francisco, they clutch their handbags protectively and take a few steps away.

California is one of those places in Kansas that is continual fodder for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour set. It’s a place that a cousin once removed visited one time and came back saying it was crazy. A place where folks say they would disown their children should they ever go to live. It’s a place that literally no one I went to school with ended up, and only provides further questions regarding my sexuality. “Did you turn homo?” one of the less prudent among them asked me, which was a question easily quashed by asking him to go ask his mother.

One can’t go back to the place they were raised without taking some sort of stock in their lives. The whole Grosse Pointe Blank introspects that begs to ask where all the good men are dead, whether they’ve changed or I’ve changed to such a degree as to forfeit any association.

But when my ma gets me a stack of Spider-man comics for Christmas, I remember there is at least a sliver of them in me if not me in them. There’s a bit – a small percentage – that makes this the place I grew up.

I’m not the man they think I am at home, oh no no no.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 23
  • Dec
  • 07

By this time, I was resolute in the belief that I had encountered every possible holiday travel scenario. Cancelled through Denver, stuck in Chicago, bumped in Atlanta, and lost luggage in Paraguay are badges of valor for the frequent flyer. We regale each other with horror stories of eight hour stops on the tarmac or running out of fuel mid-flight. We comfort each other in line at the counter as we desperately try to negotiate our way one more step closer to our destination. There is a sympathy, a camaraderie amongst the well traveled. We try to look out for each other, sharing the inside dope on the customer service rep handing out hotel stays or the toll free number without a call queue. However, the warm fuzzies we feel for each other are ditched 1 week out of 52. During Christmas, it is every man for himself.

Rob’s track record over the holidays is by no means stellar. On any given Christmas the smart money is against me making it back to visit my ma, with as many holidays eating warmed over pizza as holiday ham. So when I had successfully navigated onto my last connecting flight out of Phoenix my confidence was spilling over. My tummy was full and my flight was on time. Folks all along my way were hunkered down in chairs napping between standby flights, indicating a Yuletide yankfest that I had averted with shrewd agility. The seal on the deal was the terminal gate pulling away from the plane, a sure indicator that I was home free.

Imagine my alarm when a few minutes later the flight attendant takes the mike.

The captain has informed us that this plane is overweight by two people or twelve bags. We are going to ask for volunteers to leave the flight.

[crickets chirp]

We are offering a free round trip ticket anywhere U.S. Airways flies.

[more crickets chirp]

We are also offering a voucher of up to 200% of the cost of the flight to Wichita.

[crickets chirp the tune of "Deck the Halls"]

After about fifteen minutes of this game – now thirty minutes after we were supposed to depart – they finally make the determination to bump the person who checked in last.  Having checked in myself 23 hours before the flight, I knew I was pretty safe.  But I also knew someone was about to eat 12 inches of the shit end of the stick.

It took another twenty minutes of a futile attempt to talk his way into staying.  I met his mother at the airport in Wichita who indicated she was coming to pick up his luggage, as he had to leave it on the flight.  He was stuck in Phoenix without his luggage with a flight 24 hours later and a check for $200.

I’m pretty sure I’d be spending the holidays in a federal jail were our positions reversed.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Dec
  • 07

The headlines in American press take a 1,400 page spending bill totaling $586 billion and focus on the compromise that got it through. “Congress Approves $70 Billion For Wars” they read, belying the barges bulging with election year pork the bill brings into the harbor of the American economy. Roads and schools, dams and special interest subsidies are the commodities that buy incumbency; legislative investments in perpetuating the status quo. The usual razor thin constraints on such spending are an afterthought during a campaign.  “Spent too much” is one con for a candidate while “built a bridge, created jobs, and boosted local agriculture” are three pros.  The position pamphlets write themselves.

Whenever this much money gets spent, there are always folks that lose.  Mainstream media again fails us, whose public responsibility of dot connecting is given currently the same level of reverence and enthusiasm as a season ticket holder for the Miami Dolphins.  The story here is not another $70 billion for the war, but the campaign and foreign policy promises that were and were not kept in legislation this size.  Someone is getting fucked when a half trillion dollars get spent.

On the third to last page below the fold last week one such promise has been glossed over by election hype.  A summit in Palestine pleading for funding for an independent state was held, resulting in $7.6 billion in pledges.  Spread out over the next three years, big contributors delivered nearly $2 billion more than the provisional government asked for with big contributions from unlikely sources.  Norway hooked up $140 million; France and Germany combined with Britain for a $1.08 billion pledge over and above the $650 million contribution from the European Union.  This delivers a much needed cash infusion as the Arab League fails to deliver its commitment of $55 million a month consistently.  This is the work of government at its finest – the timely delivery of tax dollars for no other reason that it being the right thing to do.  To provide the help that others lacked either the ability or the fortitude to deliver.

The promise made on our behalf was by Secretary Rice who pledged $555 million for 2008. None of this pledge was in the House or Senate versions of the bill just passed, nor was it announced before the talks began. The promise made on Monday only took three days to get broken, as $400 million of that total was dropped from the last spending bill of the year.  $155 million cemented the United States as only slightly more committed to Palestinian success than Norway.

The French Foreign Minister Benard Kouchner gave the summit’s soundbite:

We wanted $5.6 billion, we have $7.4 billion — not bad.

If the Palestinians see even half of it, we’ll have a board certified miracle on our hands.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 17
  • Dec
  • 07

Walking through the Safeway at 4th and King, I walked by an eager young man balancing a bottle of K-Y jelly on top of a case of Bud Light.

A sign of hope in a hopeless town if ever I saw one.

As it comes down to the wire in the battle for the Democratic nomination for the general presidential election, even small errors have big consequences. With a large field of hopefuls that will undoubtedly become binary after Iowa, walking back process stories is the last thing any national campaign wants to do with three weeks to go. With less than ten points separating Clinton, Obama, and Edwards in the polls of the hour, news cycles are hard fought. Will a blunder by a senior aide decide the next president of the United States? Or will a backstab by a former friend?

Former runner for the Democratic nomination for President Joe Lieberman distinguished his douchebaggery in unequivocal terms by endorsing Republican John McCain. The Associated Press refers to Lieberman as a “political maverick.” The designation comes no fewer than four years after referring to him as an “established member of the Democratic elite.” How the field captain turns into a crybaby is simple – he loses.

And while we remained focused on the circus of primary election politics, Congress quietly shoves through the pork that will get them through another winter. $286 billion for farmers has a nice ring to it when you’re running for re-election, even if the money only ends up in the hands of enormous feedlots that produce bullshit with greater density per acre than Los Angeles. Poor farmers aren’t the winners here. Campaign contributors extending 4th and 5th terms in “agricultural” districts of their legislative buddies just got a quarter trillion dollar thank you note.

Honestly, I grew up in Kansas and I can’t say I know what a “poor” farmer looks like. While I was growing up in a trailer park eating beanie weenies and Hamburger Helper for dinner, the “poor farmers” these subsidies are directed towards had steak and potatoes for every meal. While I was playing Atari on a black and white television, they were watching HBO in every room. They drove brand new trucks and got morning coffee at the restaurants our family would only go to on special occasions. They would constantly complain and petition about roads that needed to be open or resurfaced while organizing massive dissent every time a new school needed to be built.

I don’t know anything about the economics of agriculture, but I do know people getting a quarter trillion dollars in government money in a year when the price of wheat hit $9.00 a bushel are not merely greedy. They are extortionists. They are simultaneously holding their hands out while stomping the life out of rural education. And they are successful because of an illusion of poverty – a grand American myth that huge corporate “farms” are happy to perpetuate on their behalf.

I don’t know anything about agriculture. But I do know what poor is and what poor is not.  $286 billion bills for single moms working as custodians in dry wall plants filled with redneck pigs don’t win elections.  Election politics is all about exploiting conventional wisdom for victory, and the bandwidth dedicated to those exploits grows every year.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Rob Spectre
  • 12
  • Dec
  • 07

Twice humbled within a week’s time by the occasional marvels that the music scene in San Francisco produces, I must grudgingly admit some sort of affinity for this town.  For every inch of concrete this house on the sand has that I despise, I just can’t deny the ridiculous opportunities afforded the genuine rock and roll fan.  I’ve done my level best to hate you, San Francisco.  It’s like you know my weakest spot.

Zack and I shoveled down a bowl of Boudin chili washed down with coffee at an hour entirely too late to be drank.  The doors were already open for the Tool show that had sold out in less than ten minutes months before, and the crowd was passing us by.  General admission at a smaller venue than the show I caught last year in Oakland, the good seats this time didn’t go to rich kids scalping tickets off of script kiddies.  The premium positions were going to those with a combination of devotion and flexible scheduling.  Zack and I being the working stiffs we are elected for a sidewalk dinner before ducking into the show, netting solid vantage points in front of the soundboard at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

The first round of the 10,000 Days tour plopped Tool in a giant stadium show in East Bay.  Big shows, powerful setlists, and expansive light shows were the staple of that tour.  By comparison, the show at the Bill Graham in Frisco was far more intimate and technical.  However, the principal difference in environment had nothing to do with the size of venue and everything to do with the size of the joints being smoked at that show.

Now, I don’t roll with Doobie Howser but I’ve been at my fair share of shows that have been gonzo for the ganja.  The Coachella festival alone cemented my ability to handle its interference, with nickel bags quite nearly being handed out with the drink bracelets.  However, I confess I wasn’t ready to hang with the San Francisco set on this one.  I don’t know if it was just the spot we snagged, but all I know is that by the time Tool came on I was really in the mood for some Cheetos and was pretty sure I was going to have to burn my clothing when I got home.  There’s pot at shows and then there’s pot at shows in San Francisco.  Caveat fucking emptor.

The setlist this time around was far more “laid back”, catering to a crowd that was 60% stoned stupid blind.   Such a turn of phrase being carefully applied to a band who holds several world titles in the area of facemelting rock, this show was a strong combination of technical prowess in rocking and visual artistry.  An experience that was carefully considered and thorough, we were catching them at the tail end of their latest run, making the delivery nearly effortless.  However, on the second to last tune we got the kind of treat that comes so rarely in the rock fan’s lifetime.

Earlier in the set, Maynard had invited Primus drummer Tim Alexander and the drummer from the horrible opener to join Danny Carey for a motherfucker drum break.  While welcome and spectacular, it wasn’t entirely unimaginable as Alexander had been the original drummer for A Perfect Circle.  What did blow my mind and the minds of the 6,999 other folks in the arena came on the second to last song of the night.

“How many of you are 21?” Maynard asked in some rare stage banter, “21 and… and… younger.  Raise your hands.”

[hand raising and riotous applause]

“Okay, then you’ll have no idea what the fuck you’re seeing.”

Shortly thereafter no man less than Jello Biafra came on stage and performed a breakneck rendition of Holiday in Cambodia with Tool.  It was over before my brain could even register the radical shit that had just gone down.  It was that inconceivable of a pairing – the frontman of the Dead Kennedys, fat and over fifty wrecking shit like he was born to with Tool.

Even as I write it I think its unbelievable.  It’s like Superman teaming up with Robin Hood to kick Gargamel’s ass.  The span of popular culture that connected punk rock legendary with alt rock master magician was like Evel Knievel jumping a hobby rocket across the Atlantic.  It is that fucking unnatural.

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati