Saturday, July 16, 2016

A View From The Left- Black, Defiant and Proud-Muhammad Ali: An Appreciation

Workers Vanguard No. 1092
1 July 2016

Black, Defiant and Proud-Muhammad Ali: An Appreciation

Muhammad Ali, heavyweight champ of the world, and by his own words, “the greatest,” died on June 3 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. Despite the vast distance between his political outlook and ours, we hail Ali, arguably the most prominent sports figure of the 20th century, for his courageous refusal to be drafted into the anti-Communist U.S. war in Vietnam and for his struggle against racist oppression of black people at home. After the government changed his draft status in 1966 to make him eligible for induction, Ali famously responded to reporters demanding to know if he would serve if called up:
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.... My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me n‑‑‑‑r, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. Shoot them for what?... How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
This searing indictment of racist U.S. imperialism resonated not only with the growing movement against the Vietnam War but spoke for a generation of black youth.
For refusing induction, Ali was convicted of draft evasion in June 1967 and sentenced to five years in prison. Though he remained free pending appeal, the racist boxing authorities immediately revoked Ali’s heavyweight title and barred him from boxing in the U.S. Stripped of his passport, Ali was unable to earn his livelihood anywhere else.
Ali’s bold opposition to the war had reverberations among black GIs walking point through the rice paddies of Vietnam. A big reason the U.S. Army lost on the battlefield was that the troops increasingly saw no reason to fight and die, and that was doubly true for black soldiers.
With antiwar sentiment growing and a wing of the American bourgeoisie wanting to cut its losses and get out of Vietnam, Ali’s boxing license was reinstated in 1970. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction by an 8-0 vote. (Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s first black justice, had led the initial prosecution against Ali and recused himself.) After a three-year hiatus, Ali was finally allowed to box again. In 1974, bereft of his trademark speed of hand and foot, an aging Ali upset the heavily favored George Foreman to recapture the title in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” It is a testament to the brutality of this blood sport, whose U.S. origins were in the slaveholding South, that the onset of Ali’s Parkinson’s disease came soon after he retired in 1981—most likely a consequence of the punishment he took in the ring.
The legacy of Ali’s struggles inspired young activists in the 1960s and beyond. As one of our comrades recalled:
“I grew up in a mostly white working-class neighborhood, and I spent a lot of time with my cousins, who lived in a ghetto across the bay. Muhammad Ali was our hero. And he, first among others, was beautiful, black and proud.
“Ali played a big role molding consciousness of myself as a black man different than had been the case for those who came before me. The civil rights struggles and the Black Power movement had changed racist American society—not in any fundamental way—but I did not have the same demeanor as my father’s generation, nor was I expected to by my black friends and family. I did not have to keep my head down, be deferential or say, ‘yessuh.’ Thanks to Ali and others like him, I could be black and proud and not beaten down.”
Ali Feted by Bloodstained Imperialists
It is a slap in the face to those inspired by Ali’s courageous struggles to see his death used as campaign fodder for the same Democratic Party that—under Lyndon Johnson as president—prosecuted him in order to pursue the dirty war in Vietnam. Speaking at Ali’s memorial was Bill Clinton who, as president, carried out imperialist slaughter in Serbia and Somalia and engineered the starvation blockade of Iraq, which caused the deaths of over a million people through disease and malnutrition. President Obama issued a statement saying Ali made him believe that a “mixed kid with a funny name” could become president of the United States. In that capacity Obama rains down death —predominantly on Muslims—the world over and persecutes truth-tellers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for exposing U.S. imperialism’s contemporary war crimes.
Little noted in the mainstream press coverage of Ali’s funeral is the tribute made by Malcolm X’s daughter, Attallah Shabazz—perhaps too much a reminder of the true Ali that the oppressed around the world revered and the racist American bourgeoisie despised. Still known as Cassius Clay, Ali became a marked man in 1964 when, after defeating Sonny Liston to capture the heavyweight title, he appeared with Malcolm X at his side and announced that he was joining the black separatist Nation of Islam (NOI). Shortly after, he was given the name Muhammad Ali by NOI leader Elijah Muhammad.
Ali captured the title at the height of struggles against Jim Crow segregation and a growing polarization within the civil rights movement. His association with Malcolm X was outside the bounds of what was deemed acceptable for a black sports figure in racist America. As young civil rights activists were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the pacifist liberalism and ties to the white ruling class of Martin Luther King, they found in Malcolm X the voice of the angry black ghetto. He was black America’s truth-teller, intransigently opposed to the racist Democratic Party as well as the “white man’s puppet Negro ‘leaders’,” as he called MLK, Bayard Rustin and others.
The NOI, a conservative religious cult, was opposed in principle to struggle against racial oppression. Malcolm fell into disfavor with Elijah Muhammad with his publicly known aspiration that the NOI abandon this abstention. When, in 1963, he refused to express sorrow after JFK’s assassination, commenting acerbically that it was a case of “chickens coming home to roost,” Malcolm was suspended by the NOI. Malcolm split from the NOI in 1964 and Ali broke relations with him. On 21 February 1965 Malcolm was assassinated in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. “Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life,” wrote Ali in his 2004 autobiography. “I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the chance.”
Thanks in large part to sportscaster Howard Cosell, Ali was a regular feature on weekend sports shows, giving him a platform to condemn racist oppression and confront the torrent of abuse by the press who, for years, refused to even call him by his chosen name. Cosell continued to stand by Ali in the lean years. Through 1970, the New York Times had an explicit editorial policy of calling him Clay. Robert Lipsyte, a reporter for the Times, recalled apologizing about the insulting policy, to which Ali replied, “Don’t worry, you’re just a little brother of the white power structure.” In the absence of any credible white contenders, the boxing establishment threw at Ali a series of black boxers as their “great hope” to recapture Ali’s crown for the Christian red white and blue. Ali’s most famous response to those fighters who addressed him as “Clay” was when he stood over a prostrate Ernie Terrell during their February 1967 bout demanding, “What’s my name? What’s my name?”
Abandoned by the NOI after he was stripped of his title, in 1968 Ali spoke at 200 campuses throughout the nation in defense of black rights and in opposition to the Vietnam War. This became his prime source of income. Protests against Ali’s conviction took place around the world. When black sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists on the medal podium in the 1968 Olympics, one of their demands was to restore Muhammad Ali’s title. During his long imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela regarded Ali as a symbol of hope and courage. For his part, Ali was active in the defense of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight boxer who was framed on murder charges because of his advocacy of black self-defense. Ali also supported Lauren Mozee and Ray Palmiero, a racially integrated couple victimized for defending their picket line during the 1983 phone workers strike.
Ali truly was the greatest and his greatness had much to do with the fights that he waged outside of the ring. He should be remembered when he was at the peak of his power, when workers and oppressed people throughout the world hailed him for his opposition to racist U.S. imperialism’s bloody war in Vietnam.

*****He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

*****He Saw Starlight On The Rails-With The Irascible Bruce “Utah” Phillips in Mind

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Jack Dawson was not sure when he had heard that the old long-bearded son of a bitch anarchist hell of a songwriter, hell of a story-teller Bruce “Utah” Phillips caught the westbound freight, caught that freight around 2007 he found out later a couple of years after he too had come off the bum this time from wife problems, divorce wife problems (that westbound freight by the way an expression from the hobo road to signify that a fellow traveler hobo, tramp, bum it did not matter then the distinctions that had seemed so important in the little class department when they were alive had passed on, had had his fill of train smoke and dreams and was ready  to face whatever there was to face up in hobo heaven, no, the big rock candy mountain that some old geezer had written on some hard ass night when dreams were all he had to keep him company). That “Utah” moniker not taken by happenstance since Phillips struggled through the wilds of Utah on his long journey, played with a group called the Utah Valley boys, put up with, got through a million pounds of Mormon craziness and, frankly, wrote an extraordinary number of songs in his career by etching through the lore as he found it from all kinds of Mormon sources, including some of those latter day saints.

For those who do not know the language of the road, not the young and carefree road taken for a couple of months during summer vacation or even a Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac-type more serious expedition under the influence of On The Road (what other travelogue of sorts would get the blood flowing to head out into the vast American Western night) and then back to the grind but the serious hobo “jungle” road like Jack Dawson had been on for several years before he sobered up after he came back from ‘Nam, came back all twisted and turned when he got discharged from the Army back in 1971 and could not adjust to the “real world” of his Carver upbringing in the East and had wound up drifting, drifting out to the West, hitting California and when that didn’t work out sort of ambled back east on the slow freight route through Utah taking the westbound freight meant for him originally passing to the great beyond, passing to a better place, passing to hard rock candy mountain in some versions here on earth before Black River Shorty clued him in.

Of course everybody thinks that if you wind up in Utah the whole thing is Mormon, and a lot of it is, no question, but when Jack hit Salt Lake City he had run into a guy singing in a park. A guy singing folk music stuff, labor songs, tarvelling blues stuff, the staple of the genre, that he had remembered that Sam Lowell from Carver High, from the same class year as him, had been crazy for back in the days when he would take his date and Jack and his date over to Harvard Square and they would listen to guys like that guy in the park singing in coffeehouses. Jack had not been crazy about the music then and some of the stuff the guy was singing seemed odd now too but back then it either amounted to a cheap date, or the girl actually liked the stuff and so he went along with it.

So Jack, nothing better to do, sat in front of guy and listened. Listened more intently when the guy, who turned out to be Utah (who was using the moniker “Pirate Angel” then, as Jack was using "Daddy Two Cents"  reflecting his financial condition or close to it, monikers a good thing on the road just in case the law, bill-collectors or ex-wives were trying to reach you and you did not want to reached), told the few bums, tramps and hoboes who were the natural residents of the park that if they wanted to get sober, if they wanted to turn things around a little that they were welcome, no questions asked, at the Joe Hill House. (No questions asked was right but everybody was expected to at least not tear the place up, which some nevertheless tried to do.)

That Joe Hill by the way was an old time immigrant anarchist who did something to rile the Latter Day Saints up because they threw he before a firing squad with no questions asked. Joe got the last line though, got it for eternity-“Don’t mourn (his death), organize!”                   

Jack, not knowing anybody, not being sober much, and maybe just a tad nostalgic for the old days when hearing bits of folk music was the least of his worries, went up to Utah and said he would appreciate the stay. And that was that. Although not quite “that was that” since Jack knew nothing about the guys who ran the place, didn’t know who Joe Hill was until later (although he suspected after he found out that Joe Hill had been a IWW organizer [Wobblie, Industrial Worker of the World] framed and executed in that very state of Utah that his old friend the later Peter Paul Markin who lived to have that kind of information in his head would have known. See this Joe Hill House unlike the Sallies (Salvation Army) where he would hustle a few days of peace was run by this Catholic Worker guy, Ammon Hennessey, who Utah told Jack had both sobered him up and made him some kind of anarchist although Jack was fuzzy on what that was all about. So Jack for about the tenth time tried to sober up, liquor sober up this time out in the great desert (later it would be drugs, mainly cocaine which almost ripped his nose off he was so into it that he needed sobering up from). And it took, took for a while.        

Whatever had been eating at Jack kept fighting a battle inside of him and after a few months he was back on the bottle. But during that time at the Joe Hill House he got close to Utah, as close as he had gotten to anybody since ‘Nam, since his friendship with Jeff Crawford from up in Podunk Maine who saved his ass, and that of a couple of other guys in a nasty fire-fight when Charley (G.I. slang for the Viet Cong originally said in contempt but as the war dragged on in half-hearted admiration) decided he did indeed own the night in his own country. Got as close as he had to his corner boys like Sam Lowell from hometown Carver. Learned a lot about the lure of the road, of drink and drugs, of tough times (Utah had been in Korea) and he had felt bad after he fell off the wagon. But that was the way it was. 
Several years later after getting washed clean from liquor and drugs, at a time when Jack started to see that he needed to get back into the real world if he did not want to wind up like his last travelling companion, Denver Shorty, whom he found face down one morning on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and had abandoned his body fast in order not to face the police report, he noticed that Utah was playing in a coffeehouse in Cambridge, a place called Passim’s which he found out had been taken over from the Club 47 where Sam had taken Jack a few times. So Jack and his new wife (his and her second marriages) stepped down into the cellar coffeehouse to listen up.

As Jack waited in the rest room area a door opened from the other side across the narrow passageway and who came out but Utah. As Jack started to grab his attention Utah blurred out “Daddy Two Cent, how the hell are you?” and talked for a few minutes. Later that night after the show they talked some more in the empty club before Utah said he had to leave to head back to Saratoga Springs in New York where he was to play at the CafĂ© Lena the next night.         

That was the last time that Jack saw Utah in person although he would keep up with his career as it moved along. Bought some records, later tapes, still later CDs just to help the brother out. In the age of the Internet he would sent occasional messages and Utah would reply. Then he heard Utah had taken very ill, heart trouble like he said long ago in the blaze of some midnight fire, would finally get the best of him. And then somewhat belatedly Jack found that Utah had passed on. The guy of all the guys he knew on the troubled hobo “jungle” road who knew what “starlight on the rails” meant to the wanderers he sang for had cashed his ticket. RIP, brother.

As The Party Conventions Go Full Blast-The Ghost Of Hunter Thompson-“Doctor Gonzo” Where Are You Now When We Need You?

As The Party Conventions Go Full Blast-The Ghost Of Hunter Thompson-“Doctor Gonzo” Where Are You Now When We Need You?

A link below to a Wikipedia entry for Doctor Hunter S. Thompson, "Doctor Gonzo."

Back in 2008, no, maybe more like late 2007 Josh Breslin, the then well-known writer for half the unread alterative journals and small publications in America now mercifully retired attempted against  all caution to seriously comment on the upcoming presidential election in the United States (mercifully retired for his gallons of friends who had to subscribe to those alternative and small press publications and appropriately display them, pristine and unread, on their expansive coffee tables when guests, including the ubiquitous Josh showed up for party time). Attempted to in his small way to “pinch hit” for his long distance mentor, the late Doctor Gonzo, the late big-time lefty journalist Hunter Thompson who had gained a fair share of his fame from every four years since the ill-fated and ill-starred 1972 campaign where nice guy Senator George McGovern got pasted by the then current president and common criminal, one Richard Milhous Nixon, rolling out his wild wind commentary. (Accompanied by some of the most graphically vicious but on point artwork by the bloody Englishman Ralph Steadman.) The pinch hitting became necessary when the to be sorely missed Doctor having committed suicide for what were apparently health reasons in 2005 (or maybe not being able to stand what looked like then a standard brand same old, same old campaign with another Clinton and who knows who else in 2008 where he would begin to look like the ghost of Teddy White who in an earlier time got tagged with being the “go to” guy for presidential politics every four years to the exclusion of any other worthy pursuit).   
On the face of the matter the thought for Josh of a big-time drag out knock them down fight for the soul of the Democratic Party between an insurgent black candidate, Barack Obama, subsequently the first black president but also the first president whose administration from start to finish was tied up with wars somewhere despite a still unseemly Nobel Peace prize to his credit, and the first serious woman candidate Hillary Clinton, former first lady and the wife of most publically acknowledge randy President since Warren Harding  had seemingly endless possibilities for comment and consideration. And no question a few well-chosen barbs as well. On the other side, the Republican Party also had what looked like a real donnybrook for that party’s nomination between ex-Vietnam prisoner of war Senator John McCain from Arizona and an upstart Mormon, Mitt Romney out of Massachusetts or someplace it was never  clear where he claimed residence, whose seemingly odd-ball religion with its former history of polygamy (including by his grandfather or great-grandfather Josh had forgotten which) and the wearing white cotton underwear by its devotees had its own feisty possibilities.
Josh did start out like a house afire, had the Obama black and smart appeal nailed down, saw where Clinton fatigue would do Hillary in and where Mitt’s inability to not drool in public over the prospects of getting the nomination despite being “on the one hand, on the other hand” about every single issue including whether he liked wearing white cotton boxer shorts or briefs would finally make him a loser. Then in May of that year maybe before, but not question by May, Josh threw in the towel, publically stated that what had seemed like the makings of an interesting bourgeois parties’ campaign had turned to piss and vinegar. Had all the appeal of a mop.
He abandoned his ideas in a fit of hubris recognizing as well that it took the stomach of a Hunter Thompson loaded down with as much dope as he could get down his gills, as much Wild Turkey as he could syphon down his throat and as much gibberish as he could produce on whatever new technological gadget he could handle to make his reports to do justice to the damn thing. Long gone Hunter meant that there was really nobody who gave a rat’s ass about covering the campaign the way it should be covered-with a very pinched nose and from a midnight hotel room one hundred miles from any candidate.
When 2011 came around with a sitting if then wildly unpopular president in office Josh didn’t even bother to think about the nerve-wracking possibility that he might slip back, might abandon that twelve-step program for political junkies which had weened him off such fruitless endeavors. Then 2015 came along, 2015 the year that Josh had planned to retire, planned to go back up to Maine and work through a couple of ideas about that great American novel that due to the urgencies of making enough money to pay alimony, child support and college educations for his three divorced wives and his brood of children, and all of a sudden a guy named Donald Trump came into view, had some kind of serious chance to take the Republican nomination based on Know-Nothing politics that had not been in play since about 1856 before the then newly emerged Republican Party beat back the bastards.
Josh toyed and toyed with the idea of getting back in the ring, of going mano y mano with this cartoonish character who seemed a natural for the skewer. Then Josh went back to his archives, back to some comments he made in 2008 and later in 2012 when he abandoned the crummy little small change of beating up on guys and gals who could give a rat’s ass about some writer up in Maine holding forth on the issues of the day. The kicker though was a commentary he had written about the need for the outsized ego of a Hunter Thompson to do justice to the campaign. Hunter whose blood rose to the quick when all the bullshit of the campaigns gathered steam would have loved this low-rent 2016 fight. Here’s what Josh had to say then, and stands by now when more than ever we need a big foot guy like Thompson to tilt his lance:
Josh Breslin comment:                  
One of the beautiful things about commentary on American bourgeois presidential electoral politics is that with a change of name here, maybe these days an added gender or two, maybe a longer list of contenders in one contest year than another, you can “cut and paste” from 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 (I’m ready) and be right on point. The following piece from the archives is a case in point. But the real beauty, as stated in the entry, is that I don’t have to actually vote for any of them. That, as the credit card commercial says, is priceless.
“In my old age I am getting a little weak-kneed about having to wade through the basically vacuous blather coming out of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes. While we are in a little period of ‘doldrums’ before the deluge I keep falling back to the work of Hunter Thompson on earlier presidential campaigns to try to keep a little sanity. Here’s a little tribune to the fallen journalist. Damn, Hunter we sure as hell could use you now. Call me collect from wherever you are. I’ll gladly accept the charges. Selah.
This commentary was originally used as part of a review of Hunter Thompson's Songs of the Doomed. Since most of the points I made in my review of that book apply here I will let that review stand in for the essential thrust of his whole body of political work. Obviously each book written by Thompson on the various presidential campaigns is formatted differently but whether Thompson was skewering the Nixon era, the Reagan era, the Clinton era or the Bush eras the song is the same. And it was not (and is not) pretty.
“Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self- defense, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This was particularly true when it came from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution and would reject such a designation we could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.
I am not sure whether at the end of the day Hunter Thompson saw himself or wanted to been seen as a voice, or the voice, of his generation but he would not be an unworthy candidate. In any case, his was not the voice of the generation of 1968, my generation, being just enough older to have been formed by the earlier, less forgiving coming of political age in the 1950's. His earlier writings show his struggle to break out of formalistic journalism. Nevertheless, only a few, and with time it seems fewer in each generation, allow themselves to search for some kind of truth even if they cannot go the whole distance. This compilation under review is a hodgepodge of articles over the best part of Thompson's career. As with all journalists, as indeed with all writers especially those who are writing under the gun and for mass circulation media these works show an uneven quality. However the total effect is to blast old bourgeois society almost to its foundations. Others will have to push on further.
One should note that `gonzo' journalism of which Thompson’s later work is a prime example is quite compatible with socialist materialism. That is, the writer is not precluded from interpreting the events described within with himself/herself as an actor in the story. The worst swindle in journalism, fostered by the formal journalism schools, as well as in other disciplines like history and political science is that somehow one must be “objective.”' Reality is better served if the writer puts his/her analysis forward correctly and then gets out of the way. In his best work that was Hunter's way.
As a member of the generation of 1968 I would note that the 1960s was a period of particular importance which won Hunter his spurs as a journalist. Hunter, like many of us, cut his political teeth on one Richard Milhous Nixon, at one time President of the United States and all- around political chameleon. Thompson went way out of his way, and with pleasure, to skewer that man when he was riding high. He was moreover just as happy to kick Nixon when he was down, just for good measure. Nixon represented the “dark side” of the American spirit- the side that appears today as the bully boy of the world and as craven brute. Sound familiar? If for nothing else Brother Thompson deserves a place in the pantheon of journalistic heroes for this exercise in elementary hygiene. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate THAT man before history please consult Thompson's work. Hunter, I hope you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Read this book. Read all his books.”
Strange that this review could with a few changes have been written in 2016-JB

Poets’ Corner- The Mad Hatter 15th Century France’s Francois Villon- Whether France Claims Him Or Not

Poets’ Corner- The Mad Hatter 15th Century France’s Francois Villon- Whether France Claims Him Or Not

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Once, a long time ago, an old communist I do not remember which version of the Marx-Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin-Mao-Castro Hoxha  creed he adhered to, although he had had some impressive documented revolutionary credentials in Germany before Hitler pulled the hammer down in 1933 and he just barely got out into American exile by a very long and circuitous route, told me that as far as culture affairs, you know art, novels, music and what I want to talk about here, poetry, is basically subject to whatever personal whims a person may have on these matters. The caveat to all this is that both creators and admirers should be left to their own devises except if they are actively engaged with counter-revolutionary activity. Now that I think about it that old communist probably got the idea from Leon Trotsky himself who wrote about such matters in the 1920s in books like  Literature and Revolution although I now almost positive that he did not consider himself a follower of that great revolutionary who was exiled in the late 1920s.

The point today is that if a left-wing political activist like myself, say, were very interested in the poetry of Emily Dickerson or Wallace Stevens or Thomas Mann or, what the hell, Edna Saint Vincent Millay then what of it. Except those kinds of poets do not “speak” to me. Poets like Allan Ginsberg burning the pages with his negro streets, his clamoring against the industrial complex, his angel hipsters, his chanting against the fate of the best minds of his generation, guys like the gangster-poet Gregory Corso blazing the hot New York streets with his words and taking no prisoners, old Rimbaud with his Paris mad ravings, Verlaine too, Genet with his black soul and ladies of the flowers “speak” to me. The troubadours, the “bad boys and girls,” the waifs, the gangsters, the drifters, grifters and midnight sifters and those who act as muses for the fallen are what makes me sit up and listen.                  

 And that brings us to Francois Villon, the “max daddy” of bad boy poets (and brigands) from the 15th century. Strangely while I have picked up on most of my favorite poets from some academic setting I learned of Villon from two maybe unusual sources. First from the 1930s film The Petrified Forest where the Bette Davis character, Gabby, was crazy for the Villon book of poems sent from her returned to home mother in France. More importantly the poet and what he stood for was brought up in the film in conversation with Leslie Howard’s character Alan who was a Villon-like misplaced out of sorts wanderer out in the Arizona desert. The other source was a poem by Villon used as a front-piece of an article by Hunter S. Thompson who used the sentiment expressed by Villon where he considered himself a stranger in his own country (as did Thompson back in Nixon times in America).

But back to the muses, back to the gangsta muses (sorry hip-hop nation for stealing your thunder but your sing-song lyrics definitely make me think you have drawn from the same well, the same Villon well, especially guys like Biggie, Tupac, 50 cent, and Brother Cole, a brother from the same damn “sew those worn-out pants” projects neighborhood in spirit as me). Old Villon must have gotten tripped up on his DNA finding the back streets of Paris and later exile spots more attractive than the court life, the scholar’s. Trouble followed the guy wherever he moved, or maybe better he followed trouble seeking low-life haunts and dark characters to help do his nocturnal bidding in times when the night was your friend. Granted he had little room to maneuver in those days since he was a city man, an educated man of the Paris circuit, and not some outlaw Robin Hood working the old rural pastures and forests). His poetry speaks of drunken town sots, of quick upstairs flights with besotten wenches, wenches who moreover know how to take him around the world for a small bag of dust, of grand bargains with the kings of thieves, of hard-crusted corner boys doing his bidding (excuse the anachronism but a precious read of his life makes me think of such young men hanging against sullen walls, boots up, looking for all the world like jaded youth), of sweet sweated tavern dark corners to plan, plan the next caper, or the next poem to explain away his life led.         

Who knows what makes a man or woman a stranger in their own land, an internal exile. Maybe like Villon it was his dismissal of the vanities of court life, the vacuity of the student life, or the lure of the outlaw life when bourgeois society (and France in the 15th century was reaping the beggar’s banquet of bourgeois society, beginning to create those little master craftsmen workshops that would dominate the French economy until very recently) and it took no Karl Marx to notice that the old ways had to give way to the new city ways with their gold and death to free spirits, to those who lived outside allegiances. Maybe like Ginsberg shattered by the smoke of downtown Paterson, maybe shattered by the hysterical cries of his beloved if discarded mother, maybe shattered by the square-ness of his father-poet. Maybe like Jean bon Genet born of some ancient mix of the crime that dared not speak its name and crimes that had names. Trolling waterfronts looking for rough trade, looking for his lady of the flowers. Strangers, strangers all looking for some new Algiers, some new Casablanca, and incense, some new city a-borning.

Villon, lord of the sneak away night, besotted with six wines, drunk with the fragrance of women. Women who reek of the kingdom’s perfumes and if Hilary Mantel is to be believed over in bedeviled England of the time all the women worked lilac and lemon tree leaves into their skin so that guys, guys like Villon ready to seek a lady’s favor could stand to be within ten feet of them. Reeking of words too, Villon reeking of words that is, quick words, words with hidden messages, words heard in taverns, on wormy mattresses, in stinking hayloft barns, unholy holy words that would make men quake if they had the sense that their God gave them as a gift (or was it the son, the damn crazed son, Jesus, called bandit), stealthily grabbing whatever was to be grabbed and the hell with the lord business. Then writing in dark dungeon nights looking for reprieves from a wretched life.

Beautiful, a beat down brother, no wonder Alan the wandering homeless out of fashion intellectual in The Petrified Forest claimed Villon as kindred, and why he could have walked on steamy late night New York streets and found kindred among the midnight sifters. Beat, beatified before his time probably clamoring on some woe begotten trumpet, blowing out big medieval blow notes to the hard Seine, the hard Norman shores, to all who would listen, Yeah, Saint Villon, sanctified, man of misrule, man of the hidden cloth, beat, beat about six ways to Sunday if you believe his resume, if you believe his 15th century be-bop wail. What did Kerouac, hell, a kindred, a Breton, said-yes, moan, moan long and hard for man, and Saint Villon grant us some sign, some path that we might come to rescue you in sotted, sweated dungeons, so that you too can walk the fetid streets singing, holy, holy, holy.

What was it that his literary descendants, guys like Jack Kerouac who I swear had Villon blood in him, guys like Alan Ginsberg who sang holy, holy, holy to the new age except he cried out in vain to vanquish dreaded Molochs, called those who listened to their own drummers, listened to the winds beyond the towns, beyond the cities, listened to the forest men, the men who earlier in their lives lived in towns and cities?  Oh yeah, “holy goofs.” Not goofs like you would call some guy walking down the street today looking down and he hits his head on a telephone pole because he wasn’t watching where he was going. No, our holy goof, I think Kerouac used that term to describe, or rather used that term as one of the ways to describe mad man fellow traveler Dean Moriarty, and hence the model Neal Cassady as well, to his Sal Paradise in On The Road. A guy who is for the moment, an existential be-bop guy, a guy who knows the score, knows right from wrong even, knows it better than you and me, and says “what the fuck,” says you know, I know, and so let the mystery be, let the cloistered intellectuals in their sullen monasteries poring over the number of angel that can fit on the head of a needle sulk while he worked on the angles, looked for dough, dames and dope. See, I swear Villon from his hidden grave sent down to posterity the model for the holy goof, and these other guys picked it out of the fog-bound air.          

Sweet word man Villon articulate in a hoary dark world when gangster warlord and unsavory princes vied with each for land, for wealth, for some fair maiden’s favors. And let’s not beat about the bush about those favors it wasn’t for some silly scarf just off the boats from faraway China or the Japan Seas but for a tussle in some off-hand hayloft, some milady’s boudoir, some back room tavern straw bed. Read what you want into that but some buck jack was taking his right of first night well before the first night. But heroic buck jacks sometimes could speak no lady’s words, could not utter the thoughts in an otherwise black heart and so old Villon had a space to breath, had words to tell of love’s truths, or what milady would go to the downy billows for. And for his services, for he was a man of the city, a man of the back alleys, a man who consorted with the rabble, a con man and a wordsmith in his own right and so every once in a while a bored milady would stop her quilting, stop her needlepoint and show the old curmudgeon her downy billows for just one word of the night, for the sound of those moans that no child should know before his or her time.    

Of course a guy who liked to walk on the wild side, who was organically incapable of saying a straight thing if for no other reason than self-preservation would have many a back room tavern wench taking him around the world (yes, they, the wenches, and their procurers, knew all about “taking a guy around the world” laughing at a candid world that liked to think that little sexual trick was invented by Masters and Johnson or something). And on a normal night, maybe after stealing some gold from a merchant’s back room, maybe pilfering some goods just off the boat from the Japan seas, maybe after waylaying some drunken sot for his ready bag of cash that would be good enough, would sate his sexual desire. But once every dark moonless night, maybe feeling a little put upon by his wretched place in the world he would seek the high life, “go uptown” as they said in their own way among the brotherhood.

And here is how it was done. A great and gratifying scam. Some poor high life guy who made his dough off the Japan seas or something like that had a lady love who could not be moved except by words, words of love. And he from rough usage spoke only in twaddle. No sale. So sweet boy Villon to the rescue. Pretty words at a dime a throw. A few ducats. But get this that poor roughly used guy would have old boy Villon prate the words to his love to his love. And sometimes, sometimes when there was a dark, moonless, night maybe a little sweaty milady would close her virginal eyes and act the backroom tavern wench and take old brother Villon around the world. See she knew such arts too. And that roughly used sot would never be the wiser. Oh sweet boy Villon teach your arts.        

When you mess with women though, mess in the bedroom anyway, some paid for bedroom, and it was not you paying the freight, whether it was Eve in the garden, hell, maybe before when two primates started doing the courtly dance or today with some Evita trying to avoid getting your toes stepped on by some fast moving female you have to be prepared to take the gaff. Be prepared to find that the end could only lead one way, and it was not in favor of Villon and his progeny. So, Eve, Helen, Mary, the Pea, some sweetie, whoever was ready to throw you to the wolves once they were done with you had you stymied. Or maybe they would throw you to the wolves even if they were not done with you just for practice. Ah, love, love divine, love in the back alleys, love in that scented boudoir but love nevertheless.

Except when you mess with another man’s woman, go against some broken code, and this too has been going on since the garden, maybe before, maybe in some half-remembered tussle in the savannah where the winner dragged the queen of Sheba, his queen of Sheba anyway by the hair and took her by main force you must take the gaff as well and be prepared to run after the rut. Whether she liked it or not. But still playing with kingly woman is always a dicey thing and so Villon, Adam, Markin, Jackman, whoever is now out begging for alms, for his life for the chance once more to get at that jasmine scent that maddens his mind, keeps his thoughts clouded, disturbs his sleep and makes him ask the question-what the fuck- or whatever old Villon term used with his corner boys to signify defeat. And proclaim that defeat in sweet saucy words to a candid world.        

Ah youth, ah the flower of youth and immorality, and living forever. Who had time for worrying about tomorrow today was the thing with some loose dope, some loose talk, some loose luscious butterfly swirl keeping you company against the dark, against the light if it came to that over some misty river spill or some Norman exile deep sea ocean twirl. She slumming against the drab home that she fled the last time, fled that that too soon met husband. And so she headed north to the May time fair, headed north to see if she could find a certain guy that she had dreamed about ever since that night when he performed on stage and only had eyes for her. Well, she was wrong about those eyes only for her but she found him among the Mayfair swells, found him and he did look at her then, long longing looks before the night was over, and before the expected other shoe fell. He, a poet after all, spoke of flaxen hair, fierce blue eyes (fiercer when he did some foolish thing even fiercer when some other flaxen-haired woman looked his way, or he hers), high point breasts, shoulders built to be held, a waspish waist, honey dew thighs, a sweet sweet spot and well-turned legs and ankles. Very heaven like some new day Botticelli vision, garlands in her hair, rosy cheeks after he put his heat to her.

And so they spent their time together, moving when rumors floated that her husband had his evil design on her, and on him for having her. But nothing ever came of it, at least nobody around the May fair ever heard anything about any confrontation. As we catch up to our couple though, having travelled some distance up even further north one day they were standing in the square and an old woman (not really old today but then old) strangling flaxen hair, sullen blues eyes (more sullen when some other hag tried to take her flask), sagging breasts which once too had been high pointed, craven shoulders, expanding waist (being kind to years of flask-holding womanhood), flabby thighs, barren sweet spot, veined legs and swollen ankles. The picture of, well, of something but that is not the point. That day that now aging flaxen-haired one (not really aging today but then aging) free butterfly swirl caught just a glimmer of mortality and shuttered.            

Old Villon like all of us, or most of us, was a man of his time, spent his hours in back tavern rooms lifting up the skirts of some low-born wench when he could (when he had his florins at the ready and his friends too) and since he was a mixer and had some decent blood in his veins some high-born virginal white sheets as well if he could get through the door, could find out that her husband was out with the falcons or with his own mistress and he would tumble her and she for days and days would look for a sign from him, foolish woman. Spent his time in low pursuits with his corner boys doing their midnight creep, figuring out some grift.

So, yes, he loved well, he sweated those bulky beds well, devised many a plan to keep himself in clover but hear this he also as a man of his time had to make his peace with the religious sentiments of the time and while he could be accused of blasphemy, could face the executioner’s block for what he said, could speak incestuously of his holy mother, could speak of fondling some sweet sister saint. Yes, a man of his time.

But know this old Villon was a man of words, low cunning words, high born spiritual words, crafty words, insincere words, love cometh words, wench-fetching words, suck hole words, slanderous words, but words and for that he will ride the white horse, ride off to some faraway beach.        

Yes, wanderers, waifs, strangers in a strange land, sneak thieves in the milady’s heart heated night, those are the poets I want to read and listen to. And what of it.        

Good Night, Irene Indeed-In Honor Of Folk Legend Lead Belly

Good Night, Irene Indeed-In Honor Of Folk Legend Lead Belly    

No question Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter [maybe sic]) along with Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Pete Seeger and the Weavers were the talent, the folk talent, that we who passed through that now glorious folk minute of the early 1960s owed a debt to for keeping the music alive, keeping us suppled with tunes, popular tunes in their time, until those songwriters from our own time gathered voice and lyrics. So any efforts to preserve what guys like the Lead Belly put together are entirely welcome in this quarter.

Clink on the link below to hear about the latest efforts to play homage to one of the forebears of the folk revival.


WARS ABROAD, WARS AT HOME ALEXANDER: It's Not Enough to Just Deplore Horrific Violence
I know many people believe that our criminal justice system can be “fixed” by smart people and smart policies. President Obama seems to think this way…  But if we’re serious about having peace officers — rather than a domestic military at war with its own people — we’re going to have to get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects. Consider this: Philando Castile had been stopped 31 times and charged with more than 60 minor violations — resulting in thousands of dollars in fines — before his last, fatal encounter with the police.
Alton Sterling was arrested because he was hustling, selling CDs to get by. He was unable to work in the legal economy due to his felony record. His act of survival was treated by the police as a major crime, apparently punishable by death.  How many people on Wall Street have been arrested for their crimes large and small — crimes of greed and fraud that nearly bankrupted the global economy and destroyed the futures of millions of families? How many politicians have been prosecuted for taking millions of dollars from private prisons, prison guard unions, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, tobacco companies, the NRA and Wall Street banks and doing their bidding for them.   More
Legal Experts Raise Alarm over Shocking Use of 'Killer Robot' in Dallas
As news emerges that police officers in Dallas, Texas used an armed robot to kill the suspected shooter in Thursday night's ambush, experts are warning that it represents a sea change in police militarization that only heightens risks to human and constitutional rights.  Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Friday morning during a press conference that police "saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate" where the suspect had taken refuge in a parking garage as police tried to negotiate with him, adding that he was "deceased as a result of detonating the bomb."   More
DPPer Rosemary Kean delivered a sermon last Sunday at the First Church of Boston
After centuries of being divided by race, we have an opportunity now to work to close that division with a strong racial justice movement. Without a strong racial justice movement that involves white America, it is doubtless that certain criminal justice and police reforms will be enacted only to disappear by the next iteration of white supremacist policies, which we, because our lives are not involved in a deep and caring way with black and brown families and neighborhoods, will only realize has happened after the damage is done.  Read it all here We in for Another Increase in Military Spending?
Certainly most Americans are not clamoring for heightened investments in war and war preparations… Actually, it appears that, when Americans are given the facts about US military spending, a substantial majority of them favor reducing it. Between December 2015 and February 2016, the nonpartisan Voice of the People, affiliated with the University of Maryland, provided a sample of 7,126 registered voters with information on the current US military budget, as well as leading arguments for and against it.  The arguments were vetted for accuracy by staff members of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees on defense. Then, when respondents were asked their opinion about what should be done, 61 percent said they thought US military spending should be reduced. The biggest cuts they championed were in spending for nuclear weapons and missile defense systems.  When it comes to this year’s presumptive Presidential candidates, however, quite a different picture emerges.   More
After Sanders Endorses Clinton, 'Political Revolution' Faces Hard Choices
For the past months, the Democratic Party, particularly corporate Democrats, clamored for Bernie Sanders to quit the presidential race or endorse Hillary Clinton. He continued his campaign and competed in all 50 states. He challenged the inevitability of Clinton as a nominee, forcing her to stave off his “political revolution.” But now, Sanders has endorsed Clinton, and the Democratic Party can breathe a sigh of relief going into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  The critical question of the moment is what the endorsement means for the “political revolution.” To paraphrase what Socialist Seattle City council member Kshama Sawant said at the People’s Summit nearly one month ago, how can the “political revolution” move forward if tens of millions of people, who are angry at the corporate establishment and both the Republican and Democratic Parties, are urged to support a corporate establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton?   More
What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War
Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary Robert Reich described the platform draft as providing “a relatively easy way for so-called mainstream and centrist Democrats to make progressive Democrats feel included without really changing the status quo or ruffling feathers on Wall Street.” Platform language, he said, is “still just rhetoric.… It reveals the current limits of what is acceptable political discourse inside the party.”  … But it does show that committed and strategic movements can have impact. The sections of the platform on Wall Street and tax reforms, in particular, are much bolder than those in the 2012 draft…  But it is on the platform’s dealing with issues of war and peace, militarism and diplomacy, Palestine and Israel, that both the potential and the limitations of social movements are most clear. Discussion of today’s US wars—with thousands of ground troops, warplanes and pilots, drone bombers, special forces, CIA paramilitaries, and so many more now actively at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and beyond, with thousands dying and millions displaced, with hundreds of billions of dollars squandered on these wars—was virtually absent during the platform debates.   More
The Progressive Platform Gains Are Significant—But The Political Revolution Isn’t Stopping There
While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him.  There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank…   The future of the political revolution, however, goes far beyond the platform, rules, convention or even the 2016 election.  In the next two weeks, Bernie Sanders will begin to describe how his massive organization of millions can function beyond this moment and help build a movement for social and economic change.    More
CORNEL WEST: Obama has failed victims of racism and police brutality
This November, we need change. Yet we are tied in a choice between Trump, who would be a neo-fascist catastrophe, and Clinton, a neo-liberal disaster. That’s why I am supporting Jill Stein. I am with her – the only progressive woman in the race – because we’ve got to get beyond this lock-jaw situation. I have a deep love for my brother Bernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an “outstanding president”. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place. Clinton policies of the 1990s generated inequality, mass incarceration, privatization of schools and Wall Street domination. There is also a sense that the Clinton policies helped produce the right-wing populism that we’re seeing now in the country. And we think she’s going to come to the rescue? That’s not going to happen.   More
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NEW WARS / OLD WARS – What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Shows How War Profiteers Are Now Refugee Profiteers
Border Wars: The Arms Dealers Profiting from Europe's Refugee Tragedy, released jointly by the European Stop Wapenhandel and Transnational Institute (TNI) on Monday, outlines arms traders' pursuit of profit in the 21st century's endless conflicts.  "There is one group of interests that have only benefited from the refugee crisis, and in particular from the European Union's investment in 'securing' its borders,'" the report finds. "They are the military and security companies that provide the equipment to border guards, the surveillance technology to monitor frontiers, and the IT infrastructure to track population movements."  The report shows that "far from being passive beneficiaries of EU largesse, these corporations are actively encouraging a growing securitization of Europe's borders, and willing to provide ever more draconian technologies to do this."  In the past decade, the report says, corporate players have viewed intractable Middle East warfare as a windfall: "Several large international arms companies cited instability in the Middle East to assure investors about future prospects for their business. The arms companies are assisted by European governments, which actively promote European arms in the region and are very reluctant, to say the least, to impose stricter arms export policies."  More
Double game? Even as it battles ISIS, Turkey gives other extremists shelter
Turkey has defended its policy of giving refuge to exiled supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which was overthrown in a coup in 2013. But among those offered shelter in Turkey are leaders of the Egyptian group Gamaa Islamiya, , whose members carried out murderous attacks against tourists in Egypt in the 1990s and were later tied to multiple plots to kill Americans…  Such permissive policies stand in contrast to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s newly assertive stance against the Islamic State, the group suspected in last month’s Istanbul airport attack that killed 45 people. Erdogan has moved to tighten lax border controls that allowed terrorist recruits and contraband to flow from Turkey into Iraq and Syria, and last week he vowed a further crackdown against a group that he called “not Islamic.” … Yet Erdogan has taken a softer line toward Jabhat al-Nusra, one of several Islamist groups that Turkish officials supported during the early years of the Syrian civil war before formally breaking with it under Western pressure in 2014. In a speech last month, Erdogan repeated his suggestion that the “terrorist” label was inappropriate for Jabhat al-Nusra’s Islamist rebels, who, after all, also are at war with the Islamic State.   More
NATO agrees to reinforce eastern Poland, Baltic states against Russia
NATO leaders agreed on Friday to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland for the first time and increase air and sea patrols to reassure allies who were once part of the Soviet bloc following Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.  The 28-nation Western defence alliance decided to move four battalions totalling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression…  President Barack Obama said the United States would deploy about 1,000 soldiers in Poland under the plan "to enhance our forward presence in central and eastern Europe". Germany will lead the battalion in Lithuania, Britain in Estonia and Canada in Latvia. Other nations such as France will supply troops.  More to rethink NATO
Donald Trump angered the D.C. establishment when he said that NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, may be obsolete and the U.S. should reassess its spending on the alliance. Hillary Clinton has used Trump’s comments as another example that he is a dangerous, loose cannon. But Trump has brought up an issue worth exploring and this month, when NATO will hold its Annual Summit in Warsaw, Poland on July 8-9, is an excellent opportunity to do so. Indeed, activists are planning to show up on in Warsaw during the Summit and in New York City there will be a demonstration on July 9 in Times Square. Formed in the  early years of the Cold War, 1949, with the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France, by 1952 this post-WWII alliance included Greece and Turkey, and had rejected the Soviet Union’s request to join.  In 1956, when West Germany was admitted to NATO membership, the USSR formed the Warsaw Pact in response and the Cold War was then on, full-blown…  With the recent breakup of the old paradigm after the UK just left the European Union, there may be a new opening for change. It has been reported that Germany and France have been talking about ending the sanctions on Russia imposed after the Ukraine events and are now recommending a less aggressive posture for NATO.    More
"NATO versus the EU? "
Many Europeans remain highly ambivalent about whether it is NATO, or the E.U., that better represents their own geopolitical concerns. NATO is at heart an American institution, the E.U. is not.  Indeed any real back-door influence the U.S. had in the E.U. came from the ever-loyal United Kingdom (which is why Brexit is such a disaster for the U.S. in Europe.)… Washington is uncomfortable in watching the E.U., as an economic and political organization, work closely with Russia. Indeed Germany, given its location, history and power, will be the quintessential European interlocutor with Russia — and thus most likely the major voice of reason and balance in East-West relations. Germany, more than any other European power, will also bear the brunt of any potential hostilities with Russia. That is why the German foreign minister himself made cautionary comments a few weeks ago that NATO’s largest ever military exercises off Poland since 1991 constituted provocative saber-rattling towards Russia. In this sense, then, Washington’s geopolitical agenda has in fact served to undermine the E.U. Washington strongly urged the immediate inclusion of as many former states of the East Bloc as possible in the E.U., seeking to glue them into a hopefully more anti-Russian Western “bloc.”  More