Mostly Monday Reads: Shooting Down the Sky

Hervé Télémaque
No Title (The Ugly American)
1962/64, MoMA

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Each new day I sit here, reading the news, thinking about which headlines are most substantive and meaningful, I soon discover we’ve got a bizarre timeline going on. Every day gets more surreal. I’m writing songs again to deal with it.  It’s probably why I’ve been so inspired by the works of Warren Zevon. I worked on “Living Next Door to the Ugly American Inn” this week.

Facebook punished me for using that term to describe Airbnb invaders and the local tourist pimps and whores that drag them into our neighborhoods. Facebook told me “Ugly American” was a slur instead of an essential politically-themed novel written in 1958 by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. The movie of the same name came out in 1964 featuring Marlon Brando.  It’s also the name of an American adult animated sitcom created by Devin Clark and developed by David M. Stern.  That came out in 2010 on Adult Swim. It’s also a video game.  I’ll probably be suspended for publishing this there, but who cares?

The novel so moved President Eisenhower that he created additional protocols on how diplomatic personnel should behave abroad. It focused on making the corps understand the culture and values of where they were stationed.  It was cited in LBJ’s remarks in his speech at the University of Michigan. The speech is known as The Great Society Speech.

A few years ago we were greatly concerned about the “Ugly American.” Today we must act to prevent an ugly America.

Hervé Télémaque,
“One of the 36,000 Marines over our Antilles”

Those words have never been so valid as at this moment. LBJ spoke of pollution and its threat to the country’s national resources. Today it seems more accurate to define it in terms of how our society interacts with one another in the political environment.  It seems odd that I think of it in terms of how Americans from the rest of the country tend to act when they stay in our neighborhoods instead of the Motel Six by the airport. Although  I spent enough time in Europe and saw the behavior. I tried hard to be a chameleon wherever I went, lest I be considered among that number. I got so good at it that I was frequently mistaken for a Canadian by folks that didn’t know I came from Omaha when I attended the University of Nebraska. Then they said, you must be from the east. I was like, yup, eastern Nebraska, which is Omaha.

Many of these folks pimping out houses in neighborhoods don’t even live here.  Lots of them are LLCs that aren’t located here.

I cannot understand how someone could do that to their neighbors and neighborhood.  Then, I saw this and realized that money changes everything.  (Thank you, Cyndy Lauper.)

I thought it couldn’t get worse on the Parade routes uptown, where the visiting Chads and Karens try to stake out viewing areas with chairs, red spray paint, and all kinds of things that the city daily picks up and dumps. Wow, do they have fits when that happens? But it’s in our law here.  So, this is the next thing reported by one of our local TV news krewe at WWL. “Mardi Gras’ newest hustlers are making money holding spots on the parade route. Some people are making hundreds, even thousands of dollars holding spots on the parade route.”  I’m not sure this is what is meant in Economics texts as a “Problem of the Commons”.  There are always collaborators.

And nobody does it better than Freebird Dittmar.

“Gonna have to start petitioning to have Mardi Gras three times a year and I can stop going to work on these houses!” Dittmar, who works as a carpenter outside of Carnival Season, said.

It’s his second year holding down a spot on the parade route and his services don’t come cheap. This year, he’s got three “big groups” paying him $2,500 each to hold their St. Charles Avenue spots and one group paying another $800 for a spot on the Endymion route.

Just a block away, Vera Hendriks and Alex Foley are holding a spot for their boss, who’s paying them with tickets to MOM’s Ball.

And while they were eating lunch, they got an offer to expand their turf for another $100 each.

“Once you’re out here you’ll meet people who offer you money to just sit here,” Foley said. “I haven’t had an experience like this.”

But it’s not just the hustlers making money on the route. Working from home has revolutionized how people stake out parade spots for people like Michael Scruggs, who was technically on the clock Friday morning.

“Unfortunately not all my clients are on Louisiana time, so they don’t realize it’s Mardi Gras time,” Scruggs said as he answered emails from a folding chair on the neutral ground.”

And if you’re thinking about getting in on the game, Freebird has some advice for you.

“Stay out of it! It’s mine,” he said with a laugh. “Or do it somewhere else. Uptown is my route!”

“Clients!”  Give me a fucking break!

Red Cross (You and Me)
1985,Hervé Télémaque

Let me just take a moment to talk about the artist of the paintings here.  This is from an artist that just died last November, as reported by ARTnews. Please don’t mention this to Ron DeSantis, or we’ll have museum collection bans next.  “Hervé Télémaque, Artist Whose Piercing Work About Racism and Colonialism Brought Him a Late-Career Rise, Dies at 85.”

Hervé Télémaque, a French artist born in Haiti whose poignant works tackling racism and colonialism have only recently garnered mainstream recognition in Europe and the U.S., died in a hospital near Paris on Thursday. He was 85.

The Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, which is now hosting a version of Télémaque survey that first appeared at the Serpentine Galleries in London, announced Télémaque’s passing. The museum said he had been battling an autoimmune disorder.

Télémaque has proven a hard figure to classify. During the ’60s, he was grouped in with the Narrative Figuration movement, a French style that sought to revive representational painting as a leftist political strategy. He has also been considered a Pop artist, and in a recent show presenting a global history of Surrealism, he was labeled a tangential figure of that style, too.

But to say Télémaque is a member of any of these movements would not adequately capture the vibrancy and the complexity of his art, which often took up histories of racism and colonialism—and their continued influence on the present—in striking, ambiguous ways

Okay, now, some Gratuitous Warren Zevon music.

I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns
I heard Maria crying
Late last night I heard the news
That Veracruz was dying
Veracruz was dying

Someone called Maria’s name
I swear it was my father’s voice
Saying, “If you stay, you’ll all be slain
You must leave now, you have no choice”
Take the servants and ride west
Keep the child close to your chest
When the American troops withdraw
Let Zapata take the rest

So, why am I writing a Song called “Shooting Down the Sky”?  Well, it’s not often you live in times where Reuters reports this. “Ruling out aliens? Senior U.S. general says not ruling out anything yet“.  I’m curious why no one is telling us about these four unidentified sky objects that Biden called NORAD to shoot down.  After all, I probably paid for a bit of an F-22 raptor, even if it’s only part of a bolt.

 The U.S. Air Force general overseeing North American airspace said on Sunday after a series of shoot-downs of unidentified objects that he would not rule out aliens or any other explanation yet, deferring to U.S. intelligence experts.

Asked whether he had ruled out an extraterrestrial origin for three airborne objects shot down by U.S. warplanes in as many days, General Glen VanHerck said: “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”

Okee dokee, then.

Hervé Télémaque: “Fonds d’actualité No1 (Current Affairs No1)”

The Chinese aren’t wasting time playing tit-for-tat in the big game in the sky.  This is from the Washington Post.  “China says at least 10 U.S. balloons have flown in its airspace since 2022.” I thought Donald Trump had created the US Space Force so we could have some really high-tech budget busters to deal with them.  I guess it was all about the uniforms, decals, and soundbites.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said the United States has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year, as the two countries feud over a Chinese airship discovered and shot down by the U.S. military this month. The United States denied the allegation.

Hitting back at allegations that Beijing had used the balloon, discovered floating over the western United States, for surveillance, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a press briefing that it was “common” for U.S. high-altitude balloons to fly into other countries’ airspace.

“The United States should first reflect on itself and change course, rather than slander, discredit or incite confrontation,” Wang said.

The comments come after a U.S. fighter jet shot down another unknown object flying off the coast of Alaska on Friday. U.S. and Canadian officials then said a U.S. fighter jet shot down an unidentified object in Canadian airspace on Saturday. A fourth object was shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon.

Hervé Télémaque:
“Inventaire, un homme d’intérieur”

So, our next big conflict is about balloons?  Isn’t that a bit like World War 1? At least the Zeppellins Airships were visually interesting.  The BBC sums it up here.  “Mystery surrounds objects shot down by US military.”  This is not what all those 90s movies told me to expect.  Will Smith, the nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

The US military is unsure what three flying objects it shot out of the skies over North America were – and how they were able to stay aloft.

President Joe Biden ordered another object – the fourth in total this month – to be downed on Sunday.

As it was travelling at 20,000ft (6,100m), it could have interfered with commercial air traffic, the US said.

A military commander said it could be a “gaseous type of balloon” or “some type of a propulsion system”.

He added he could not rule out that the objects were extra-terrestrials.

The latest object – shot down over Lake Huron in Michigan near the Canadian border – has been described by defence officials as an unmanned “octagonal structure” with strings attached to it.

It was downed by a missile fired from an F-16 fighter jet at 14:42 local time (19:42 GMT).

The incident raises further questions about the spate of high-altitude objects that have been shot down over North America this month.

US Northern Command Commander General Glen VanHerck said that there was no indication of any threat.

“I’m not going to categorise them as balloons. We’re calling them objects for a reason,” he said.

“What we are seeing is very, very small objects that produce a very, very low radar cross-section,” he added.

Speculation as to what the objects may be has intensified in recent days.

Well, of course, speculation is intensifying!  You’re not telling us a damned thing!  Paging, Ron Serling!!!

Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon Xbox Live and PSN

Okay, one more thing about hot bags of air, and then I’m done.  “Steve Bannon Ran Up Huge Legal Bills and Stiffed His Lawyers”. His Godfather, Donnie Trumpo, taught him well.

Steve Bannon—the nativist American media personality who’s backed by a Chinese billionaire—hasn’t paid the lawyers who spent years defending him against an onslaught of criminal charges, according to three sources who spoke exclusively to The Daily Beast.

With massive legal bills still outstanding, Bannon is now scrambling to find new attorneys, as he faces a looming trial over the way he scammed the MAGA crowd with a dubious plan to build a privately funded U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Bannon’s refusal to fully pay his bills has stunned some of his close advisers who’ve stuck around for years.

“I don’t have any reason to believe he doesn’t have money,” one associate said.

Then again, Bannon is also a known grifter and liar with a long history of peddling disinformation.

You don’t get any uglier than Steve Bannon. That’s for sure!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

More  gratuitous Warren Zevon

Finally Friday Reads: Florida’s Road to Fascism is a Warning Signal

By the Window in Winter, Jessie Willcox Smith,1919

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The Republican Party is all in on the culture wars. They’re signaling from all levels of government that they’re ready for White Christian Nationalism even if the rest of us–and our Constitutions–are not. The sad thing is that the states are sure they have allies on the Supreme Court that will reinterpret long-standing precedents to make it so. The headlines are horrific.

Many states are enacting laws that interfere with freedom of religion, the first amendment right of free speech, the right to privacy, and just about every other constitutional notion that empowers a free democracy. No place is turning into a model of governmental overreach than the state of Florida. The state’s fanatical right-wing governor–Ron DeSantis–is hell-bent on winning his side of the culture war. This story is told by Florida Teacher Andrea Phillips at the UK Guardian. “I’m a teacher in Florida. Here’s what the DeSantis book bans look like in my classroom. A new crackdown on books in Florida schools has had a chilling effect in classrooms.” The reports of this action include small children crying about the book snatcher’s policy.”

Many schools, including my own, do not have a full time media specialist. Due to budget cuts, we have a media specialist every other week. That means we have one person to vet thousands of books in our school alone, before we can have them in our classrooms. In addition to the mountain of work now laid in her lap, she hasn’t even been given a system to vet the books with. Currently, it is a subjective process of a single person reviewing each book with a 12-point questionnaire. One of my issues is that what one person finds offensive, another may find silly. For example, the book ‘No, David’ by David Shannon. On one page an illustration of David running pantless down the street is shown. One media specialist may find this humorous, as it was intended, while another may label it as pornographic. The lack of directives and specificities makes me fear for the future of school-based libraries.

In an attempt to shield their teachers from disciplinary actions, my district issued a directive to make all classroom libraries and media center books unavailable to students until further directed. We have been told that this is a temporary move as the district works toward compliance with this law, but with only one person to vet thousands of books, it doesn’t feel very temporary.

I work in a low socio-economic neighborhood and most of my students do not have access to books at home. Last year, with the help of my family, friends, and community, I was able to start running a Little Free Library out of my classroom. When my students finished group and had free reading time they were welcome to choose a book from my library to take home. They could keep it, share it, or bring it back and trade it out. They loved it. Word got around and students from outside my groups started asking to come and get books and I welcomed them.

Last month I put a call out on social media for more books. I was running low, and people came through. Friends shared my posts and wishlists and within a week I had more than 200 new and used books to add to my library. I sorted through all of the books to make sure they were age, topic, and level appropriate for my kids. The Friday before we were told to cover our books, I was able to give away 100 plus books and I’m thankful for that.

So after a staff meeting filled with grumbling teachers complaining about our governor, the state of our state, and venting about how disrespected, unappreciated, and undermined this makes us feel, I headed back to my room to begin packing up my classroom library.

The next day my first group of students entered and immediately asked, “Where are all of our books Mrs. Phillips?” OUR books. Not mine, but theirs. My kids know that I use my time, my money, and my resources to collect these books and curate a library for them. They are meant to build a foundation in literacy and inspire a lifelong love of reading, not just for educational purposes, but for enjoyment as well.

The Story Book, William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1877

MSNBC’s Wajahat Ali argues that it’s not only Desantis that’s all in for banning books and pushing guns. “Republicans like DeSantis and Boebert are pushing guns — and banning books.”

When given a choice between saving their voters’ lives or promoting the guns that lead to deaths, Republicans consistently tag-team with the Grim Reaper. Take America’s favorite firearms enthusiast, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who promised to wear a Glock to Congress. In a speech on the House floor Wednesday, she said: “A recent report states that Americans own 46% of the world’s guns. I think we need to get our numbers up.”

If only Boebert felt the same way about books, American kids might have a shot at being great again. Unfortunately, they’re too busy trying to survive and avoid getting shot at school.

When given a choice between saving their voters’ lives or promoting the guns that lead to deaths, Republicans consistently tag-team with the Grim Reaper.

Boebert, along with Republican presidential hopefuls such as Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas believe that allowing more people to carry concealed guns without training or permits is the sanest and most logical choice to reduce violent crime, protect children and promote freedom.

In 2023, we’ve experienced more than 50 mass shootings in America, according to Gun Violence Archive. It’s only the beginning of February. Republican leaders don’t need to respond to mass shootings with pro-life measures, such as responsible gun control, because they know their MAGA base will continue to vote against its own interests because of racial resentment and the never-ending culture war against the libs.

Why fix what works — even if it remains broken, violent, and self-destructive?

Girl Showing An Illustrated Book, Charles Roka (Róka Károly),

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz–a trust-fund baby–is about as radical as one can get. His prescription for poor and disabled Floridians and Americans who rely on Medicare is to get a job. This is from Semafor, as reported by Joseph Zeballos-Roig. “Matt Gaetz wants to make poor Americans work for their health care.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz is trying to convince his fellow Republicans to demand new work requirements for Medicaid as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

The Florida congressman, who has been enjoying new influence within his party after leading the surprisingly effective conservative revolt in last month’s House speaker battle, recently broached the idea on Fox News. He tells Semafor that he’s now “socializing” the concept among colleagues, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

He specifically wants to tighten Medicaid eligibility rules on “able-bodied working-age adults,” particularly in states which expanded the health insurance program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act. He said he sees it partly as a solution to recent labor shortages.

“Work requirements are proving to be a very unifying concept with my colleagues,” he said in a phone interview, adding he’s had “a very positive reception” to the idea, including from McCarthy. The speaker’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate Nebraska Republican, said Gaetz approached him about discussing it in-depth during the House Armed Services hearing on Thursday. “I’ll have an open mind to hear what he has to say,” he told Semafor.

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Disingenuous Republicans in the House realize that the reason the deficit is getting more considerable is the Tax Cut they gave highly wealthy individuals and Big Businesses. The defense department and military are the only places to cut spending. It continues to be the most significant chunk of US spending. If you want to see President Biden’s spending priorities look no further than the Budget Publication from last year. Republicans know this and are playing coy with where they focus their spending cuts.

NBC’s Sahil Kapur reports the one area they’ve focused on. “House Republicans float one spending cut in a debt ceiling bill: Unspent Covid money. Republicans don’t have a fully fleshed-out plan yet, but it’s an early glimpse into the party’s mindset going into a potential debt ceiling crisis later this year. “

There’s no Republican plan, let alone a bill, to resolve the debt ceiling problem. But some GOP lawmakers are floating one idea to include in a package: rescinding approved but unspent Covid relief funds.

Taking back the unused pandemic response money “certainly could” be in a debt ceiling measure to avert default, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chair of the powerful Rules Committee, said.

“I would hope we look at that,” Cole said. “It’s something that ought to be on the table.”

Rep Mike Kelly, R-Pa., who sits on the Ways and Means Committee that oversees taxes and large portions of the U.S. budget, said he’s open to it. It would be “insane” for Congress not to look at options to cut red ink by nixing unnecessary spending, Kelly said.

“There’s areas that we should not be spending and where we could actually either reposition or just not spend it, and then bring down our debt,” he said.

“We can make cuts that don’t hurt people,” Kelly added.

The idea isn’t yet ready for prime time in the GOP-run House, the Democratic-controlled Senate or the White House. But it is the most specific Republicans have gotten in terms of whatthey’d like to attach to a debt limit hike, a question that GOP lawmakers have been notably vague on, even as they demand spending cuts as a concession to pay the country’s bills. The Treasury Department has set a June 5 deadline for Congress to act or breach the debt limit.

George Dunlop Leslie – Alice in Wonderland (1879).

Anyway, back to Florida’s Fascist-in-Charge. This article from Vanity Fair by Betsey Levin. “A Comprehensive Guide to Why a Ron DeSantis Presidency would be as terrifying as a Trump One. His bigoted policies and authoritarian behavior make him just as bad a pick for the top job in Washington.”

According to people who know him, he’s awful and has been for many years.

A former college teammate, who simultaneously praised DeSantis’s intelligence, described him like this to The New Yorker: “Ron is the most selfish person I have ever interacted with. He has always loved embarrassing and humiliating people. I’m speaking for others—he was the biggest dick we knew.” We’ll repeat that for emphasis: “He has always loved embarrassing and humiliating people.” Great qualities to have in an elected official!

When I saw the latest crap coming out of the College Board, the first thing I saw in the blueprint was Rotten Ron. I must admit to taking AP classes every day and taking AP exams. It’s a clear path to skipping many freshman classes and getting a better chance at a good school. So, if we can study the short history of Italian and Irish Americans, why can’t we get a shot at learning about Black Americans and their history here from the early 17th century forward?

A schoolboy sleeping on his book, painted by Jean-Baptiste Greuze,1755

This is by Nicholas Goldman, an LA Time columnist. This is what “cancel culture” looks like.

After reviewing the College Board’s draft curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American studies, Florida Gov. (and presidential wannabe) Ron DeSantis loudly lambasted it last month — and declared that he would ban the course in Florida’s schools.

On Wednesday, less than two weeks later, the College Board came out with a revised plan, omitting or downgrading some of the more controversial pieces of the curriculum, including sections on reparations, the Black Lives Matter movement, incarceration and “Black Queer Studies.”

All this has caused great uproar. Conservatives say that the original curriculum was “woke” and “lacked educational value” and was “pushing an agenda.” Their opponents argue that the College Board now has cravenly watered down the curriculum in response to conservative bullying.

This much is unquestionable: DeSantis and other conservatives have been on a misguided mission to bar certain subjects in schools, including those they think normalize gay and transgender “lifestyles” and those perceived as promoting critical race theory, their latest bête noire. Some Republicans insist that teachers must stop teaching “toxic propaganda” about the United States.

These attempts at educational censorship are outrageous. And if the College Board made concessions in its revised curriculum because of pressure from Republicans, that was cowardly and unprincipled. (The College Board denies that it changed the curriculum due to criticism from DeSantis.)

To me, though, the chief point is not whether schools get to teach about Black Lives Matter or Black queer studies or Black conservatism or Afrofuturism or Black feminism. It’s not whether Kimberlé Crenshaw or Angela Davis has been included or excised. Even with the changes to the curriculum, there’s still plenty to learn about African American history and culture.

What matters most in my view are two fundamental principles. One is that politicians shouldn’t dictate what gets taught; academics and teachers should. We don’t want grandstanding Republican (or Democratic) politicians with no expertise in Black studies pandering to their constituents’ prejudices and forcing their politicized versions of events on educators and students. That goes for DeSantis as well as for legislators in states like California, who have over the years sometimes sought to push curricula to the left.

Since Fox and other media outlets are pushing De Santis as a Trump alternative, we need to be ready to tell folks he is not an option.

Try to slog through some of this because it’s shocking and needs to be stopped. It may get thrown out in many courts, but Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch are just bloodthirsty to make this law. And don’t forget Rotten Ron not only has used police to chase possible election fraud, but he’s also going for The Period Police for young women athletes. His hostility to women and reproductive rights knows no end.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

So, this is what I consider good news, and I’m leaving it here. Also, I have had this earwig since Saturday night, thanks to the Werewolves of London Krewe at IKOc. Thought I’d share it with you along with the news that Zevon got nominated (about time) to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Evidently, we can thank Billy Joel for this.

Warren Zevon was an artist’s artist. One of the most talented and significant singer-songwriters to emerge in the 1970s, Zevon wrote poetic but offbeat songs, often with darkly humorous and acerbic lyrics, and delivered them with a dry wit and a twisted energy like no other performer could. Throughout his career, Zevon built a devoted fan base and earned the respect of his greatest peers, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young.

Trained as a classical pianist, Zevon began his career in the 1960s as a composer of commercial jingles, a writer of pop songs (including two recorded by the Turtles), and a singer in the folk-pop duo Lyme & Cybelle, followed by several years doing session work and touring with musicians including the Everly Brothers. Zevon’s self-titled album, released in 1976 and produced by his friend Jackson Browne, won glowing reviews from critics and admiration from artists including Linda Ronstadt, who covered four of its songs. The followup album Excitable Boy (1978) featured the smash hit “Werewolves of London,” which climbed the singles charts and earned Zevon a cult following that remained for his entire career.