Monday, February 21, 2005

Mammon

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.--This evening your blogstress reports from the Charles Town Slots & Races in a state known to some as Almost Heaven. This is your Webwench’s first encounter with the Mountain Mama, and she sits shielded from the clear, black sky and the silent beauty of the Blue Ridge in a barage of blinking lights amid the relentless, humming din of iniquity.


Despite her Jersey heritage, your cybertrix has never been much of a gambler. In fact, she may be the one person in the Garden State who voted “No, dammit!” on the public question that ultimately led to the legalization of gambling there. Your net-tête cannot quite account for her avoidance of this vice. As one who has been forced to quit more things than most people have done, you might think a money jones would have made it onto that list. It’s not naïvité; for her first legitimate, on-the-books job, your blogtress worked at a pizza parlor that made more book than pizza pies. It’s neither heritage nor religion; at least one muscle-bound member of her family once collected book for a living, and her Roman Catholic co-religionists are rather fond of games of chance.


She does recall, however, a certain Bible story making a strong impact on her when she first heard it as a child--the one where the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes on the eve of his execution. Your Webwench, then a mere wenchlet, was already shooting craps, having been taught to do so by her father, who showed her how to toss the dice against the curb in front of the house. But the Roman soldiers cured her of that.


So what, then, could possibly bring the blogstress into this sea of greed? Did someone utter the word “lust”?


Indeed, in something of a comeuppance, your écrivane finds herself following a very talented, young musician to this humming house of legal tender with the promise of something far more tender in the dark of night, though of a sort that may not be legal in West Virginia.


Criminals vs. Puritans

It has been a day of oddities for your cybertrix, who found herself beginning her day in church--yes, church. One Dr. Philip J. Wogaman, pastor emeritus of Washington, DC’s Foundry United Methodist Church, made a visit to his old perch to preach a lesson on the verse in Matthew wherein the faithful are instructed that they cannot serve both God and wealth (modern English) or, as Wogaman noted, “in the more poetic language of King James, ‘God and mammon’.”


He was clever to move the congregational mind back to the King James version for its archaic usage. A word so rare as “mammon” is now able to stand in for outsized lust for just about anything, which Wogaman defined as simply one form of idolotry. After all, what else, really, is money-worship but idolotry?


From there, this engaging pastor took his flock into the realm of ideology, illustrating how fixed ideological positions of the sort that produce the extreme partisanship now plaguing the nation’s capital are themselves rooted in an idolotry of sorts, amounting to worship of dogma, placing it above worship of the Divine One.


In speaking of fixed ideologies, Wogaman sarcastically remarked, “Of course, that’s a problem that belongs to the Muslims--not to us Christians."


Wogaman then harkened back to the days of the Clinton impeachment which, with Hillary Clinton as a member of the church, embroiled Foundry’s congregation. In the long ramp-up to the Monica mess, the religious right had targeted the Clintons through any means they could find, including a character attack on Wogaman, then minister to the first lady. (A chronicle of the right’s offensive against Wogaman was made by your Webwench for Mother Jones in 1996.)


In referring to those times, Wogaman quoted an Australian friend who said of his own country, “Thank God we got the criminals and you got the Puritans.”


It was your net-tête’s friend, the Sleepless Artist, who brought her to hear Wogaman, himself having traveled a long road from an Eagle-Scout Oklahoma boyhood to a life as an out gay man who eats, lives and breathes art and big ideas, pondering them under the gorgeous Stetson he still wears as he moves through Dupont Circle. She is grateful to Sleepless for this trip down the path of wisdom, even if it did have her lacing up her bustier at a cruel hour.


What goes up must come down

And so your blogstress sits, in this cheery den of despair, goo-goo-eyed in the thrall of a vision in black wielding an electric bass guitar, equal parts lion and lioness. (Imagine that: blogstress as the girlfriend at the gig.) Watching the Lion-ness do her thing calls to mind the healing power of music, even on the most desolate of landscapes.


In between sets, the mantra of money mania fills the hall, a combination of electronic hum and the occasionally dropping coins. The electronic drone is a C note, according to the Lion-ness--not a low, soothing C, but rather a mid-range C that your cybertrix is convinced was chosen for its tension-producing quality in the human body. The canned music in this moment is David Clayton Thomas belting out “Spinning Wheel”. Once the band womans the stage (it’s an all-female outfit, and kick-ass at that), the drone seems to dissipate, and an assortment of people, many who seem rather broken, draw close to the stage to lose themselves in the beat, the vibe, the harmony, the melody and the good-natured sexiness of this group of gifted musicians. The band feels the love and gives it back, and for a moment, all is right--beautiful, even--in everyone’s world.


Yesterday your blogstress had the good fortune of visiting the East Coast Jazz Festival, an astonishing conglomeration of performances, workshops and jam sessions put together by singer Ronnie Wells and her husband, pianist Ron Elston, every year in Rockville, Maryland.


There with her friend, Lipsbuzz, she sat in on a trumpet workshop taught by Vaughan Nark (no, the Webwench does not trumpetfy), and then took a guitar workshop led by Paul Wingo. She got to cap off the night participating in a jam led by the brilliant bassist Wes Biles. (The jam featured a number of pubescent boys who kicked your blogstress’s butt in the musicality department. Alas, no girls turned up to play instruments.)


Nark showed his trumpeters a few tricks of posture and technique, then spent the rest of the workshop riffing on the care and feeding of the spirit. “Make your body into a bowl and vessel,” he told the assembled horn players, after reminding them that theirs is the instrument of the angels and the gods, the instrument that brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down. “And I believe that,” he added.


The body as vessel would channel the spirit throught the horn, he implied. “We have to travel throught the physical to get to the musical,” he explained.


Throughout the day, a luminescent older white gentleman sat in on the various workshops your net-tête attended. He was treated as an elder, always deferred to by the workshop leaders. He turned out to be the guitarist, Paul Wingo.


If Nark’s workshop was an initiation in to the estoric, Wingo’s was positively transcendental. Wingo’s technique tips? “Merge with the other musicians.”


“What else is music but the transmission of love?”


“The world needs you now,” told the ax players. “Now, who would like to play something? Who would like to merge with me?”


Some played and didn’t merge; some did go to that special place with Wingo as he plinked away, eyes closed.


Oh, yeah, he said, don’t forget this. “The audience actually makes the music.”

Huh?

Well, if you’re merging properly, it seems. You gotta merge with everybody in the room, lose your ego, be in the moment.


Welcome to the Conservatory of Be Here Now.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A brighter and clearer vision

From our friend, Deep South, comes this appreciation of Howard Dean’s ascension to the donkey’s throne.

Glad you got to see Howard Dean. I am even more glad that someone is taking notice of how the Christian evangelicals have taken over local politics, school boards, etc.


These people are driven by an ideology, a vision of the future they truly believe. They immerse themselves in that dogma, and constantly reinforce each other in group Bible study, and are constantly on the lookout for some disillusioned soul they can carefully win over with proselytizing love and smiles. They carry their small New Testaments in their breast pockets.


I remember an earlier time, of dedicated leftists, who went to any length, to any third world country, into the grossest poverty of Angola or Alabama, with an ideology burning in their hearts…Until some new ideology takes hold with the same fervor of the new evangelicals, with a brighter and clearer vision that drives its adherents from the couch to the caucuses, then we are doomed to drown in this growing and unexpected tsunami of religious fervor.


Learn more about Dean's plan for the Dems.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

A new day
Howard Dean takes charge at the DNC


WASHINGTON HILTON--Today your blogstress forgoes her usual Saturday brunch with her D.C. famiglia--an assembly of brilliant and charming gay men and one apparently straight child --in order to watch history made at the annual meeting of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). You’ll recall that during the presidential primary, your Webwench pretty much drank Howard Dean’s Kool Aide, and found herself enraged when the regular party tore down the only candidate (that would be Dr. Dean) who seemed to understand that the old ways of doing Democratic politics needed to be banished from the 21st Century.


What a difference a year makes. Just about this time in 2004, Howard Dean found himself vanquished in the Iowa caucuses--and written off by the broadcast media (at the bidding of the party establishment) as a serious player in party politics when the doctor’s irrational exuberance on caucus night was cast as evidence of emotional instability. The party establishment went on to prove its already well-documented ineptitude, not only in the presidential election, but especially in the rout of Dems in Congress. So, enter the doctor to offer a cure.


While nobody was paying attention, Howard Dean began his campaign to chair the Democratic party. At a Democratic Party fundraiser last March, Dean was shunted from the main stage to a side stage with the rest of the also-rans in the presidential primary. There he used his 10 minutes to urge the Democrats to take a lesson form Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. The Dems needed to look at Reed’s organizational model, he said, and make a point of getting Democrats elected to school boards, county offices and state legislatures throughout the country.

In the service of the Washington Blade, your cybertrix nailed the former Vermont governor on his way out of the hall:

Before Reed’s side took over the country, we reminded the governor, the technique he was articulating was the means by which Reed’s evangelicals took over the Republican Party. We noted that earlier this month, Dean used the foundation laid by his presidential campaign to form a new grass-roots organization, Democracy for America. Did the governor, we wanted to know, wish to take over the Democratic Party?


“Well, I want to take over the country,” he replied, “not for me, but for ordinary people.”


It’s about the structure, stupid

In today’s nominating session, the dominant theme to emerge was a promise to devolve the national party’s power to the state level. “Strength does not come from the consultants down; it comes from the grassroots up...,” Dean said in his acceptance speech. “The path to power is to entrust others with it,” he continued, after a disclaimer about “not being much of a Zen person.”


Your écrivaine agrees that this is indeed the way for the Dems to move ahead, and to create a party structure elastic enough to prevail on the new political landscape. But how will the consultants feel about being so disempowered? They know where to find the levers of power in the Washington establishment, to which Dean is a stranger. Will they move those levers against him?


On a parallel path of sorts, Andy Stern, national president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has proposed a restructuring of the labor movement in ways that would put out of business the national officers of some 40 member unions of the AFL-CIO. Though Stern’s solution calls for a consolidation of power through the condensing of some 60 unions down to 20, his proposal echoes Dean’s in this manner: it’s about the structure, stupid.


Your net-tête, in the guise of her less madcap persona (the journalist, Adele M. Stan), has long posited that both the Dems and big labor still talk in the parameters of the old economy, as if a growing economy was good for everybody, as if economic sovereignty existed in the realm of possibilities. The new shape of our national economy and that of the world has been ignored in assessments of how best to serve working people.


With Howard Dean now at the helm of the Democratic National Committee, and Andy Stern poised to smelt and remold the AFL-CIO, a new day is truly upon us. Should these guys do nothing more than smash up the old structures of their respective institutions, they’ll have done their nation a great favor.


Howard Dean is right: the new political structures must be built a new from the ground up if they are to succeed. The only way to get to the ground is to raze the behemoth that now stands upon it. No tinkering with the existing models, whether in big labor or the Democratic Party, will breed success. Best to just get them out of the way to remove that temptation.


Loving the L word

The secondary theme from today’s Demfest is the return of the “L” word. Throughout the gathering, people were declaring themselves as liberal, saying they were proud to be so. The emergence of Howard Dean has liberated the liberals, removing the taint from the beliefs that once defined the Democratic Party. In her nominating speech in support of Dean (who won the chairmanship by acclimation), Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker, vice chair of the California Democratic Committee, asserted, “I’m sick and tired of hearing the so-called experts saying that there’s something wrong with the Democrats, and that we need to move to the right to fix it. We have nothing to apologize for, and we’re not moving.”


How ‘bout them apples?

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Mapquest, anyone?

For those who have wondered just what kind of a woman would raise a blogstress, here's a special treat. Maman de la Cybertrix just returned home from cruising the Caribbean with Papa de la Webwench, and offers this assessment of U.S. foreign policy, as viewed from the deck of The Princess:


Grenada is devastated, having suffered Hurricane Ivan last September. Eighty to ninety percent of the buildings have no roofs--or worse. Interestingly, the Japanese government has replaced several bridges (pointed out by a tour guide). Red China is also active there. We were told that Cuba has helped them over the years, even sending Grenadian students to Cuba and Bulgaria on university scholarships. We didn't see any US bridges, though. Must have lost the map to Grenada again.

Love,
Mom XXXX000


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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of What Union?

With friends like these...

Well, after watching Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union, your Webwench has figured out how just how the Democrats plan to save Social Security: they will bore you to death, hopefully before you're old enough to collect your benefits.

Can't wait 'til Howard Dean takes the helm of the DNC and starts kickin' some butt.

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Death-defying democracy

With a helicopter droning above the oppo factory (which sits some four blocks from the U.S. Capitol building), the president presented the parents of a fallen soldier, both resplendent in the purplish color reminiscent of the indellible ink used to mark the fingers of Iraqis who voted last weekend. When the mother leaned forward to embrace the Iraqi woman--whose father was martyred by Saddam Hussein--in the First Lady's box, the moment was truly moving. And Bush himself seemed to mist up.

Your blogstress did not support the invasion of Iraq, and thinks quite a mess has been made of things there. Nonetheless, she is gratified by the willingness of the Iraqi people to defy death to vote. In America, one must defy the death of the spirit to vote--and depending where one lives, perhaps an obstruction or two--and too few do.

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Training and equipment

"We have given them training and equipment," said the president of the our men and women in uniform.

Just not enough of it. And just not the stuff they need--like vehicle armor. The prison factory in Illinois that makes armor kits for military vehicles hasn't received an order since October.

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Nothin' left to lose

The Internationalist has joined your cybertrix in the oppo factory, just in time for the freedom riff. The president suggested some nice things that the tyrants of Egypt and Saudi Arabia might do if they wanted to make a pretty democracy.


"What is he doing?" asked your blogstress of the Internationalist. "Did he, like, call Mubarak and Fahd and say, hey, I gotta say a coupla things in the speech about freedom in your land. Don't you worry about none of it, though. But that stuff about the Uranium people risin' up against the moo-lahs, well I just might mean that."


"He's not saying anything bad [to the ears of the dictators]," the Internationalist explained. "He's just saying things that won't happen."



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A lock of your hair

So now we're expanding the collection of DNA evidence. One wonders whether the collection will be predicated on the accusation of a crime, or just on general suspicion.

Your blogstress had wondered just why, for three months last spring, her garbage appeared to be getting special treatment, picked up in the middle of the night while that of her neighbors was collected late in the morning. She liked to imagine John Ashcroft lingering over its contents, muttering incantations over a collection of chicken bones, cigarette butts and sanitary products in their post-sanitary state. After all, what of interest to the powers that be could be found in a Webwench's rubbish? As it turns out, it just may be the discarded contents of her hairbrush.

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By your own account

So we find ourselves at the real sell-job of the speech: the give-away of the nation's retirement program to Wall Street. Call them personal accounts, as the president does, or private accounts, as the more truthful do, we're still talking about opening a hole in a program that works as a closed system, and therefore screwing up the dynamic flows that sustain the system.

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State of What Union?

As citizens of this country eye each other across what the media have sold as a great divide, the president of the United States has just entered the hall where he will deliver his annual State of the Union message.

Beginning with a self-congratulatory nod to the elections recently taken place in Islamic lands, the president elected by those who would deem America a Christian nation was not able to claim this last U.S. presidential election as one more fair and free than that which brought him to office in 2000.

Mr. Bush has just assured us, even as your blogstress dons her driving gloves (the better to blog you with, my dear), that his new budget will eliminate a raft of government programs that are wasteful, none of which he specified. However, a look at his last budget should afford us a notion of just which programs the president considers to be "not working".


The Veterans Affairs medical benefit program that provides all veterans with health care? Wasteful. In the last budget, Mr. Bush decided that veterans of modest means (say, a single male earning less than $30,000) were no longer eligible for enrollment in the V.A. system. Scheduled surgeries at some V.A. hospitals were apparently deemed wasteful, as hundreds of non-elective surgeries were cancelled at a single Oregon facility for lack of staff. Can't wait to see who's to be thrown over the side in this year's budget (due for release next week).

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