Saturday, March 28, 2009

instead the forest rose to sing

All week long I’ve been listening to Danny Schmidt’s new CD, instead the forest rose to sing, growing more amazed with each listen. I have long admired Schmidt’s wordcraft and musicianship; I am surprised at how much better both are on this collection of songs. Nobody I know turns a phrase or tells a story like Danny and he always does it to some very fine meter. Not only that, on instead the forest rose to sing, he is accompanied by a fine group of musicians and strong production. Carrie Elkins adds sharp edged back up vocals—and a haunting end to the tale of greed in “Serpentine Cycle of Money”.

Each song is a gem and the collection offers varied tempos and feel. There’s not a ringer in the bunch. “Southland Street”, which is about as well stated summary of America’s economic fortunes as you will find in any media, shows Schmidt at his best—telling a genuine tale with well-tailored words and rhymes, all sung with a knowing and sly voice; the chorus says it all:

Hammer fall, strike the steel and bend the beat
They had it all till it all went headin’ south.

“Firestorm” is as dark and smoldering as anything by Richard Thompson. “Grampa Built Bridges” reminds me of John Prine, not a copy but a grandson understanding his forebear. Like Jackson Browne, Schmidt recognizes mortality early in life. Regardless, life will be lived and savored. “Swing Me Down” celebrates the many women—"the girl that cleans you up and the girl that broke ya...the girl the that tells you what and the girl that asks ya”—in a man’s (his own?)life:

I can’t promise it’s a blessing but I swear it’s not a curse,
To love so much it must make a heart to burst.

instead the forest rose to sing is as good as, probably better than, any other music that will be released in 2009. Danny Schmidt’s always strong guitar and voice blend well with violin, piano harmonica, cello, accordion, mandolin in addition to guitar bass and drum, all produced with deftnes. I hear a man of self-understanding and hard-learned wisdom, one who’s made mistakes and may well do so again but is still able to take life for what it is and what he can make of it.

Neither message nor music interferes with each other. Together, they are a fine listening experience.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Velo News

Yesterday turned into a perfect day for cycling. Early morning was well below freezing and foggy but it wasn't raining. By the time I got out at mid-day the sun was breaking through the clouds. Olympia has had any number of perfect cycling days lately but they have all been week days. Last weekend was solid rain and chill, just not the kind of weather I want to take on from the get-go on a ride. Yesterday was absolutely no question.

I rode a 25 mile loop north to Woodard Bay, south on the Chehalis Western Trail into Lacey and back through Tumwater and the South Capitol neighborhood of Olympia. It was a sweet, easy ride. The day became sunnier as I rode so I encountered other riders and pedestrians on the CWT. Approaching one woman, I noticed her swaying; as we passed I saw (and heard)that she was wearing tap shoes and dancing to the music coming through her earbuds. Another woman walked her Dalmatian. I stopped to inquire about her dog and learned that Crocker is an 11 year old male and in good shape. He looked it, larger and stockier than Prince, sleek-headed like Prince, sparsely spotted and very friendly. Closer to home I passed a co-workers' house and met his six-month collie pup. After the ride I went to the Iraq Memorial to Life for the closing ceremony and dismantling. We finished that task with dinner at a Thai restaurant downtown.

A fine day. Weeks of mental cobwebs blown away.

Two weeks of

after the


Blog News, Maybe

To the extent that anyone is paying attention to this space, they will notice that I have become an irregular weekend blogger. That is largely due to the fact that I work at a desk and computer much of each weekday and am not at all inclined to do so in the evening. That time is much better spent with reading and listening to music after dinner and whatever routine chores I cannot put off until another time.

My limited output does not mean limited involvement. I am still highly engaged. If I wrote even a sentence for each of the ideas that rips through my consciousness as I read the news, I could easily post daily. Problem is, one sentence always leads to another which introduces complexity and/or ambiguity that needs explanation and pretty soon, I'm working on an essay. If I'm lucky one or two of those thoughts will hold until the weekend when I am willing to spend part of my time sitting at a computer.

If you are looking for content right now, check out the Iraq Memorial to Life here in Olympia. It was a vivid reminder of what comes from the muzzlles of our weapons. David Rovics has a thought-provoking essay on Israel, Palestine and the Third Reich.

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Beside the Point

Early in the week, when the brouhaha about the AIG bonuses began breaking into the news, I did a quick calculation: $165 million divided by $170 billion equals about one-tenth of one percent—not even a penny on the dollar. Normally, we don’t think much of pennies, much less their miniscule fractions, so I am somewhat amused by the outrage over this paltry sum in the cascade of billions now flowing from the Treasury to private financial institutions.

Of course, the outrage is not really about the bonuses, it’s about the whole financial meltdown and our seemingly complete dependence on the financial wizards who got us into the mess to somehow get us out. We’re all afraid and ready to take up arms against The Enemy, just like the neighbors in the Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”. The AIG bonuses are simply a spark in the greater conflagration.

The bonus brouhaha is j a sideshow. Yeah, it’s a rip-off, but compared to the massive transfer of wealth upward in the past few decades, it’s a pittance. Compared to the loss of a productive economy or a financial sector that actually serves investment, this week’s revelations are nothing new. Of course, we were all too happy with that financial system when it showed up in ever growing assets on our investment statements. We were all part of the “owning class”, remember? Not many of us were outraged then, were we?

We are outraged now, ready to kick some financial sector butt. Not, mind you, to look hard at what we’ve been doing by way of national economic policy, at how the nation systematically jettisoned the regulatory structures created during the Great Depression precisely to keep this sort of thing from happening again. No, we want the magic of the marketplace to return, to begin showering us with goodies, to go back to that sweet life where we were all becoming rich capitalists. We want it so badly that we will turn to the same pied pipers who’ve been fleecing us for years.

You won’t find it in the mainstream media, which is filled with the language of the real Owning Class, but alternatives to allowing the perpetrators of the fraud to dictate a so-called recovery do, in fact, exist. The Nation has offered two excellent articles on what I would call a public-oriented recovery. The first, by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, points out that law and custom hold the perpetrators of a problem liable for its resolution (“the polluter pays”) which clearly fixes the loci for capitalism’s latest panic. He also notes and that the nation has a longstanding, effective procedure for dealing with financial institutions that become insolvent. Of course, his solution would require the Owning Class to eat their own losses, which is why this approach is little discussed in the corridors of power. Somehow, what has been a demonstrated success in maintaining financial institution credibility is inappropriate when the economy becomes “too big to fail”.

The second article, by William Greider based on the work of economist Jane D’Arista, describes how the Federal Reserve System has been rendered largely irrelevant to the modern financial system which consists of an array of instruments and institutions that dwarf traditional banks which the Fed regulates. During the past three decades, the financiers have come to rule the market in their own interest (cleverly cloaked in the garb of expanded economic opportunity for all). The Fed under a series of chairmen, most notably Alan Greenspan, let it all happen because The Market was a “far better arbiter” than some government bureaucrat. In contrast, Greider looks toward restoring a credible monetary policy that serves public rather than narrow private interests.

Between them, Stiglitz (who is also co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict) and Grimes offer a good nuts-and-bolts analysis of capitalism’s latest crisis. I see precious little of that in the mainstream media that I do frequent. That absence explains why Americans are so willing to continue pouring money into a private financial system only to vomit when they see that those private interests do little for the public interest and all for their own. We are Wylie Coyote beyond the cliff. Too bad Wylie didn’t have the bankers, the president, Congress and the media telling him he could continue to float.

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