Swans Commentary » swans.com June 6, 2005  



Blips #20
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery




"The world only goes forward because of those who oppose it."


(Swans - June 6, 2005)  RECRUITING SOLDIERS for the finest military in the world appears to have hit a serious bump in the road. As more and more Americans -- now a solid majority -- have come to realize that the war in Iraq was ill-founded (no WMDs, no link with Al Qaeda, Iraq did not attack us, oil is not forthcoming, and prices at the pump remain high), moms and pops all over the country don't want to see their kids get killed or maimed for what is increasingly considered an unnecessary adventure with no end in sight. They don't question the lofty goal of exporting freedom and democracy but they'd rather not have it done with the blood of their sons and daughters. In ever larger numbers, parents are discouraging their children to enlist. Perhaps this is what former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger had in mind when he commented at a meeting of the US-India Business Council on June 1, 2005: "For the U.S. to crusade in every part of the world simultaneously to spread democracy may be beyond our capacity." It takes a lot of money and boots on the ground -- both getting in short supply -- to feed the Empire...

THE BOOTS ain't coming. The Army and the Marines don't meet their quotas. Resourceful recruiters are resorting to desperate tricks -- falsifying diplomas, ignoring drug charges and other petty crimes of potential recruits, etc. In addition, the military, thinking long term, is aggressively targeting kids in high schools, middle schools, even elementary schools, with promises of college education and secure careers -- which is blatantly false, as Jennifer Wedekind reports in "The Children's Crusade: Military programs move into middle schools to fish for future soldiers" (In These Times, June 3, 2005): "[o]n average, two-thirds of recruits never receive college funding and only 15 percent graduate with a four-year degree. As for a 'secure' career, the unemployment rate for veterans is three times higher than non-veterans," adds Wedekind. Meanwhile, pundits and politicians alike raise the issue of the draft -- the specter of mandatory service -- but this does not look quite practical. Imagine boomers' reaction to the imposition of the draft... It's one thing to have volunteers wage unnecessary wars -- that does not affect them in particular. But let the sons and daughters of middle- and upper-class boomers become fodder for cannon, and you can rest assured the antiwar movement will explode, the streets fill with masses of demonstrators within months of the reinstitution of the draft, and they'll heatedly demand that the sons and daughters of the powers-that-be joined the fray.

PUT IT THIS WAY: Take Nancy Pelosi, the oh-so liberal representative of San Francisco and House Minority Leader who is gung-ho on Iran, who wants the forces of good to stay in Iraq till the job is completed, who'd go to Syria at a moment's notice, etc., and tell her that her kids will be a part of the contingent... Tell this to Dean, and Cheney, and, Mr. Bush... "Hey, Mr. Bush, charming daughters you have, just gorgeous human beings, beautiful flowers... Know what, they're going to Iran with my son and daughter, you hear...or my son and daughter stay home." I think they'll reach out to the prison population (that's over 2,000,000 people) before the draft is reinstated. They'll offer inmates freedom after serving say, five years in the military, like they are doing with poor immigrants -- give us three years and you get citizenship (well, if you're still alive). Funny that they have not thought of that yet...

THERE IS A CRUCIBLE though, and it has little to do with terrorism and nothing at all with spreading freedom and democracy. Let's see what else Mr. Kissinger had to say on June 1, 2005: "The great game is developing again . . . . The amount of energy is finite, up to now in relation to demand, and competition for access to energy can become the life and death for many societies. It would be ironic if the direction of pipelines and locations become the modern equivalent of the colonial disputes of the 19th century." Evidently, if we keep thinking in 19th century terms, which apparently we do, then the unnecessary war in Iraq is actually quite necessary. The U.S., with about 4 percent of the world population consumes 25 percent of all energy resources. So long as we want to keep our "non-negotiable" way of life humming and puffing along we're going to need boots on the ground. Liberals and conservative alike are fully aware of the crucible. It'd be good to see Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush address the nation together (like Hillary and Newt) and level the facts with the American people: "Friends, we send the kids to die so that you all can enjoy your unsustainable way of life. If you do not want war you need to change your way of life. Do you want to change your way of life?" Lib-labs or fundies, we are all Americans now.


QUOTATION FOR THE AGES: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
--Albert Einstein


FUNNY TIDBITS to alleviate one's depressed mood:

G. W. BUSH SPEAKS THE TRUTH: "Now, a personal savings account would be a part of a Social Security retirement system. It would be a part of what you would have to retire when you reach retirement age. As you -- as I mentioned to you earlier, we're going to redesign the current system. If you've retired, you don't have anything to worry about -- third time I've said that. (Laughter.) I'll probably say it three more times. See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda. (Applause.)"
"Remarks by President Bush in a Conversation on Strengthening Social Security," PRNewswire, May 24, 2005.

CONDI RICE MEETS GEORGE ORWELL: "Isn't it wonderful that we live in a country where people are allowed to speak?" said Condoleezza Rice, as the police removed four protestors in black hoods who assumed Abu Ghraib prisoner photo positions and yelled, "stop the torture, U.S. out of Iraq" during her speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 2005.

MON DIEU, JOHN PAUL II'S ON A FAST-TRACK TO SAINTHOOD: "One miracle is required after John Paul's death for the cause to lead to beatification. It must be the result of prayers asking the dead pope to intercede with God. Another miracle would be necessary between beatification and eventual sainthood.

"Miracles are usually a physical healing that doctors are at a loss to explain."
Yahoo News, May 30, 2005.

IGNORAMUS HORRIBILIS: You think that the USA, in regard to bureaucratic regulations, is bad, bad, bad? Think again... Here is something I found in the North Bay Progressive, a new monthly giveaway published in Santa Rosa (California), under the auspices of Peter Phillips (of Project Censored fame):

German Women Told to Take Job as Prostitute or Lose Unemployment Benefits

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services" at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalized in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners -- who must pay tax and employee health insurance -- were granted access to official database of job seekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a café.

She received a letter from the job center telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile" and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman realize that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job -- including in the sex industry -- or lose her unemployment benefit. The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centers must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.
By Clare Chapman, source: Telegraph, Jan. 30, 2005

Need a job? Don't want to lose your benefits? Here are two openings: A prostitute job in Vegas and a guard position at Guantánamo. Pick and choose.


BOONVILLE Sorry, I can't resist... Here is a letter to the Editor of our local rag -- the once Anderson Valley Advertiser, which was brilliantly edited by a fearless hobo named Bruce Anderson -- and the answer from the current bonzo Editor of the degraded paper (David Severn), reproduced as published on May 25, 2005 (I'm sure David will be happy to have his name and paper advertised on Swans -- we are neighbors, after all...):

[Note: Format, typos, capitalization (or lack thereof), are faithfully reproduced.]


Well, it's time to survey the changes to the AVA as it is post-Bruce (postbruceism, if you will), through long distance Michigan eyes. Here it is a given that losing Bruce Anderson's ranting in my mailbox each week is a true loss.
THE GOOD: 1) More Major Mark, cranky as ever. 2) Bruce Patterson -- this guy is a dynamite writer, even with references to "the Creator" muddling his points. a pleasure.
THE BAD: 1) more effective advertising sales. good for you, bad for me. 2) The printing of way more pictures. local yokel pandering, no doubt. 3) Admonishing would-be contributors to "keep it short" (no doubt related to items 1 and 2). 4) Precipitous decline in spawn lit -- I'll take one Zack over a dozen of your spices and flowers, Mr. S., sorry. 5) Turkey Vulture hack writing getting regular space. wasted space. 6) More Charmian, or maybe it just seems like it. Evidence (along with item 5) of the growth of what my old pal Freeme Beryl in Missoula, Montana, calls "mediocracy and folksy pawdtwa." Indeed.
7) Don MacQueen is back, with his ever-whinier Hamlet routine. write or don't write, but please just shut the fuck up about it.
8) Far less incisive or sarcastic repartee with letter writers. This is sorely missed. 9) More accounts of illegal local activities from official sources like cops and DA et al. Reprinting press releases, eh?
10) Fewer compelling essays of social history from folks like Dayla Hepting, J.B. Reynolds, Dick Meister, et
So there you have it, 5-1 against the post-Bruceism version of the AVA, off the top of the head of a subscriber for more than a decade, despite many letters of fawning praise published. I realize that I'm not the target audience, so too bad for me. How about printing some stuff from the Swans folks, they're locals, right? And right on target. Please don't go totally pawdtwa on us.

                                                                                                                  Raymond Garcia
                                                                                                                  Lansing, Michigan

Ed note: The way I feel 20% ain't so bad. It is only natural for folks to compare the current paper to the one put together by Bruce Anderson and since no one other than the man himself could ever be Bruce, Bruciphiles certainly must be disappointed. From boring and morose to cowardly, to crass commercialism far short of Pulitzer quality, I have been accused of it all. While some of your critique is definitely on target and we thank you for the prod, you have on points let your emotion and sense of loss overshadow the reality of the product being produced. Bruce's priority was local stories and so is ours, some of which out-of-staters may find mundane no matter who the editor is. As to the ads, we run what we get, again, just as Bruce Anderson did. Aside from Bruce's absence the paper is not all that different. Thanks for sticking with us and I do hope as I learn and gain more experience and understanding the paper can improve. The world and American culture is in a terrible mess and it needs a strong progressive voice to help find direction. We hope to continue to be a part of that effort.

Of course, Raymond Garcia is right on the mark, as the "Boonville News" has reported in various occasions (see. Blips #10, Blips #15, Blips #16, and Blips #17). But one should come to the defense of David Severn. He is neither boring nor morose. Look, he writes about the visit of a big Navy plane, or the passing of over 30 Model T Ford Speedsters through our bucolic valley -- undoubtedly entertaining news fully deserving of their placement on the front page... A plane flies over, old cars tut-tutting through...that's not important in Michigan (shame on you, Mr. Garcia) but, hey, what else would you want to talk about here, at the drive-in? Bruce Anderson used to entertain the readership with local news too, but the topics he chose were, how to put it gently, a tad edgier -- like, for instance, the rampant poverty and obscene wealth, the exploitation of migrant workers, the degradation and curtailments of social services, the sprawling vineyards and their effects on the ecology (water, pesticides, etc.) and the economy (mono culture, work conditions, absentee ownership, profits exported to far away places and even countries), the closing of small businesses and the subsequent structural dilapidation of buildings and housings, the reigning corruption in the halls of power, the greed of various business people, the enlarging fosse between the haves and the have-nots, the land speculators, the display of ever-bigger pickup trucks roaming along Highway 128, the Subaru-laden lib-labs (David's daughter drives a Subaru!) and other navel gazing do-gooders, the would-be folksy KZYX with its daily regurgitation of soporific news (some good music though), etc., etc., etc. Then again, Bruce kept in mind Joseph Pulitzer's adage: "Newspapers should have no friends." With a direct correlation to poor advertising sales -- and a couple of guns in his bedroom for protection... David, on the other hand, cultivates friends like the gardener tends his garden. More mundane stories -- kiss-kiss, back-slapping infomercials -- translate into ad revenues; and when one works part time at the town hardware store, as David does at "John Rossi & Son Hardware," one would be hard pressed to critically expound on local businesses...not by lack of courage...simply good business sense.

That David Severn considers he brings "a strong progressive voice" in an effort to help find a direction to the world and American culture that is in a mess is most laudable, indeed. He should be forgiven for ignoring the actuality that, first, the world cultures (plural, David...) are not synonymous with American culture (which one?) and, second, the world (or most of it), at this point in time, would be much relieved if it could be left alone from any American help, "progressive" or otherwise. David should be forgiven, for chances are he does not have time to read foreign polls, which are not featured in the daily (local and regional) press he reads assiduously -- and, as we all know, there's a strong belief here, in Boonville, that we are at the very center of the world; so strong a belief that Boonville's grocery store sells T-shirts, postcards, coffee cups, and other paraphernalia inscribed with an oval logo that reads in its center BOONVILLE surrounded at the top by PARIS . ROME . MILAN and at the bottom, . TOKYO . LONDON .! Just imagine the "progressiveness" of the Anderson Valley, the real progressiveness...that which Bruce Anderson used to cover relentlessly, exported all over the world... (I shiver at the thought of it.)

Now, Raymond Garcia and the readers may have noted that David, in his repartee, conspicuously and prudently avoided addressing the question, "How about printing some stuff from the Swans folks, they're locals, right? And right on target." Well, maybe we aren't exactly locals... See, our quarters are located almost at an equidistant distance between Boonville and Philo, so it may be that while we do hone a Boonville address, David Severn and his majordomo have concluded that we were on the Philo side of the invisible (blue-red) line. Curiously, for an editor who prides himself to focus on local news, Severn has not found Jan and me, as well as the making of the Swans Ezine (just over one mile away from where the AVA is assembled), worthy of an interview or a reporting article in the AVA... They do know our location, the Swans site, our e-mail addresses -- they, both David and Mark, are on the bi-weekly Swans distribution list, and we regularly cross their paths in town... Local news reporting? So much to cover, so little time...and space in the paper! Amusing, no?

Evidently, the AVA does not publish Swans stuff....any longer. It used to, mind you, first when it was still under Bruce's ownership, and for a few issues after the paper changed hands. I used to send the AVA one or two Swans pieces every two weeks, which they published. They also would republish these "Boonville News." All free of charge...a point worth noting since we, on the other hand, have paid a subscription in full for the AVA. And, details, details, when I once kindly asked for a second subscription for Jan who was residing in San Francisco during the week, Saffron Fraser, the Subaru daughter of the editor with "a strong progressive voice," said, "sure, what's her address...it will be $40..." Even the Major was embarrassed enough by the crass materialism of the Subaru lady that he suggested that since we provided free material to the AVA, maybe, just maybe, she could consider a free subscription -- which, to be honest, after a few seconds of hesitation during which her accounting mind went back and forth between the lost dough and the earned gaffe, she agreed to...though that very lapse of time led me to politely decline...and Jan has been grateful ever since (saved some natural resources...and she pretty much does not read the paper anymore -- I still do...professional obligation, mind you -- and do expect to receive a courtesy subscription at renewal time...Probabilities I get one...?).

I kept sending articles but eventually they stopped being published, a period that coincided with the publication of Bruce's new weekly in which Swans pieces were published from the very first issue on -- Bruce even placed a free ad for Swans in his paper for a while and did send a free subscription to Jan and a paid one to me. This, I'd surmise, was only a coincidence, but, anyway, since the pieces were not published, not even book reviews, I eventually stopped sending them. They kept publishing the "Boonville News" for a few more weeks and that too went to an abrupt end. Why, it's everyone's guess... I did ask Severn once, a day when I met him at the hardware store. His answer was mind-bogglingly hilarious. He said that he had much material and wanted to print original pieces. I'm still laughing at the scene. David, avoiding eye contact by all possible means, telling me he wanted to print original work... I mean, please! The AVA is now filled over 50 percent with depeche and articles found all over the place in other papers and on the Web including Cockburn's and St. Clair's multi-syndicated (Web, pulp) columns -- even the letters to the Editor feature bits and pieces found elsewhere -- versus Swans, with its no multi-posting policy, no-syndication (I was even making sure not to send the same pieces to Bruce and David), and free of charge...not original enough! David was saved by Rossi's son who showed up and admonished us that conversations about the publishing business should not take place in the store during work hours...and David, his eyes now filled with relief, walked away as fast as a rabbit runs when pursued by a pussycat! The reason they stopped publishing my "Boonville News" is unknown, but one could easily surmise that from their point of view, we are not "right on target" (cf. Garcia's letter) -- or at least, our target is not "their" target...read wallet. (There may also exist a more subtle, subterranean reason associated with political philosophy and associations with "friends and allies" we do not frequent... e.g. CP.) And, evidently, I do not profess to be a strong progressive voice as he does and have no intention or interest in advancing and exporting American values, progressive or otherwise, to the entire world!

(This topic would deserve further consideration. The publication of so-called alternative media which revolves around $$$ signs; the "progressiveness" of a CounterPunch or an AVA; the controlling aspects and effects on dissent by the myriad tribes of the "left," anarcho-libertarian, free-market libertarian, and the many multi-colored garden varieties in between, all competing for a relatively small pool of money, with little message for the future but criticisms aplenty, sharing (or stealing, depending on one's perspective) other people's work so that they can add to the quantity, if not the quality, of their activism; the ferocious competition -- in typical capitalist, neoliberal, neocon, neoneo phraseology -- translated in Martian parlance as me, me, me, me, me, me -- among the actors, or spect-actors; all would require further deconstruction...and disintoxication...)

Meanwhile, David Severn should not be blamed for who he is, and for trying to both survive (financially speaking) and advance the "American Progressive Cause," whatever his definition of that oxymoron. Neither should he be faulted for some of his limitations, especially when comparing him to Bruce Anderson. Bruce had over 5,000 books laying all over his house... None of us can match Bruce's encyclopedic culture, mordant sense of humor, journalistic skills, and immense writing talent. He had the unique ability to blend local and national stories, to intertwine, weave them together in order to draw a picture -- good and bad -- of the entire country. That's what made this local community paper such a national icon; that's what we Brucephiles are direly missing; and that's why the paper will ineluctably become another run-of-the-mill local paper, more community oriented, less controversial...in other words boring. David to his credit is working mightily to make the transition as smooth as possible.

We are therefore nominating David Severn for the Pulitzer Price for Strong Progressive Voicing of American Values, Made in Small Town America. Long live the Anderson Valley Advertiser (which is on its way to deserving its name)! And yes, McQueen should shut up or fess up.

Locally and sustainably yours...

Full disclosure: Jan and I came close to buying the Anderson Valley Advertiser. We had plenty of advice to do so, with only our old, affectionate, and trusted friend, Milo Clark, advising against the deal. Bruce wanted $40,000 for the operation. We decided not to purchase it. Among the various reasons that led to the decision were the realization that, having yet to settle in Boonville, we could not live up to the local stuff; we had mixed sentiments about Mark Scaramella; we found the price too steep; we were already running Swans; and, upon reviewing and analyzing the operation's financials, we came to the regrettable recognition that Jan would have to keep her day job (money does not grow on trees) and that we would have to considerably increase ad space, (hence attract advertisers...hence not piss off local businesses...hence stay out of controversial issues, etc.); the chances of keeping the publication afloat, while speaking our mind and keeping it truly independent from advertisers, was very slim. We bailed out with the full knowledge that David was ready to take over. In retrospect, and from current observations of the changes at the AVA, our analysis has proven correct.


Ç'est la vie...

And so it goes...

· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'

Blips and Tidbits


About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

Old Set, Establishment And The Rest Of Us - Milo Clark

Have The Meanings Of Words Been Hijacked? - Philip Greenspan

Decline And Fall Of The Plastic Empire - John Steppling

Funding A Rational Treatment For Obesity - Jan Baughman

Saul Bellow In Retrospect - Louis Proyect

Peter Brook At Eighty - Charles Marowitz

Stalin's Dream State - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

A Plea To The US Antiwar Movement - Joe Davison

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/desk020.html
Published June 6, 2005