The Good, the Bad and the Osprey

Well, there's some good news and some bad news.

Scientists report that due to global warming, large areas of arctic permafrost are melting, releasing long-trapped, prehistoric, greenhouse gases into the air—yet one more unanticipated accelerant in this century's race to toasty destruction. I suppose this falls in the “bad news” category.

But, hey, isn't it good news that you can catch a Greyhound bus from Santa Ana to San Francisco for only $42 (or $78 roundtrip)? I took a redeye to San Francisco recently and am pleased to report there were no chickens onboard—at least not any live ones.

My pal Jonathan Richman was recording a new album up there. If you listen with tweezers, you may hear me playing a shaker egg on one track, so lay out the red carpet when you see me coming. Along with Jonathan's regular drummer, Tommy Larkins, most of the shaking and banging was provided by local light Stephen Hodges, he of James Harman-Tom Waits-Smashing Pumpkins-Fabulous Thunderbirds fame. He's also manning the skins on the new John Hammond album, Wicked Grin, which was composed and produced by Waits, and Hodges will be on the throne when the splendid Mr. Hammond comes to the Coach House on March 18, which would be a very good time for you to be there as well.

The bus ride, meanwhile, wasn't bad as forms of purgatory go, arriving in San Francisco in less time than it takes to fly to Europe. And, unlike a plane, I actually saw people taking accordions as carry-on items. Further unlike airplanes, it stopped at a Burger King. There is no place like a rural Burger King at 2 a.m. to let you know what America feels like.

Now some bad news: The New York Times recently ran a story about the defoliants used on coca fields in Colombia, relating how children and adults are complaining of vomiting, rashes and other maladies—claims pooh-poohed by our government, which says the defoliants have no ill effects, despite warnings printed right on the canisters of the stuff (glyphosate), saying it should never come in contact with people. The aerial spraying has also been destroying subsistence crops such as yucca, plantains and corn, making one wonder just how people will subsist.

This is part of the $1.3 billion U.S. commitment to Colombia's “drug war,” which is simply a war war, and for the usual reasons: money and power. Our Congress approved the funds contingent upon a fair chunk of it going to purchase helicopters from a company that had lobbied them grandly. Meanwhile, communist cocaine must be more addictive than fascist cocaine, since our monies and arms have been devoted to devastating leftist-controlled coca-growing regions while bypassing those run by the oligarchy. Colombian guerrillas have done their share of thuggery, but by the count of reporters and human-rights groups, the right-wing paramilitary death squads employed by the big landowners have done most of the killing and a lot of the coke-running, while the Colombian military is itself awash in recognized human-rights abuses.

Earlier this month, General Jaime Humberto Uscategui became one of all-too-few Colombian military officers convicted of complicity with the death squads. A court ruled this month that in 1997, he ordered his troops to stand idly by while a death squad—which had been flown into a military airport—massacred at least 22 villagers suspected of having leftist leanings. His sentence: 40 months. The deaths, not surprisingly, haven't stopped, with the most recent massacre in January resulting in 25 villagers being macheted to death. In a war with no good guys—except the peasants caught in the middle—what are we doing siding with these killers?

This $1.1 billion, by the way, is separate from our military budget, which is also separate from the $65 billion Bush wants for a missile-defense shield most scientists and tests say won't work.

Russia has a military budget of $7 billion this year. Know how much ours is? $300 billion, with Bush looking to raise it to $310 billion next year. To do what—keep the world safe from Japanese fishing boats?

Not to make light of that tragedy or the well-intentioned efforts of our folks in uniform, but when you've got all this deadly stuff out there, bad things are going to happen, and it's not doing anybody any favors, except military contractors, who evidently don't care how many Marines they kill in Osprey helicopters as long as they get their fat contracts.

On the bright side, Anaheim's Kid Ramos—who has just finished recording the follow-up to his Handy Award-nominated West Coast House Party album, and who, incidentally, disagrees with me on everything political—turned me on to the Django Club. It's a bunch of Django Reinhardt devotees who previously got together in a living room to play the Gypsy guitarist's hot club jazz. Now they've gone public, and they're so good they'll make your big toe shoot up in your boot—as Little Richard is wont to say—with guitarist Jeff Ross (whom you should recall from his days with country-punk pioneers Rank and File) being a particularly dazzling standout. Double wow! They perform on the second Thursday of every month at the Barn Restaurant & Saloon in Tustin—(714) 259-0115—so the next night is March 8.

Would that all were so splendid. Isn't it bad how good Republicans are at righteous indignation? Yes, Bill Clinton is a sleaze; yes, Marc Rich is a bad man for dealing with our sworn enemy, the Ayatollah. And since the Republicans are looking for ways to somehow impeach Clinton yet again, I'm sure it's just an oversight that Representatives Dan Burton and Bob Barr haven't yet retroactively brought treason charges against Ronald Reagan and George Bush for selling missiles to the same ol' Ayatollah.

Are these guys crazy? Don't think so: while they're caterwauling and leading the media by the nose, George W. Bush is able to further his agenda without scrutiny. Marc Rich is perhaps guilty of ripping some people off years ago. Meanwhile, Bush's decision to cut off funds to international family-planning organizations that use other funds to inform persons of their abortion options means poor nations will have yet more overpopulation and HIV infections. Maybe he's counting on the two canceling each other out. Also going unquestioned is Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson calling for a “safety review” of the RU-486 pill despite its safe use in Europe for more than a decade.

Or how about Bush's intent to gut the pending bipartisan patients' “bill of rights”? How about his plans to reverse sensible labor rules about considering a company's labor and environmental records when awarding government contracts, or reversing efforts to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries? How about his hypocrisy in suggesting he may compel airline mechanics not to strike because it might “threaten the economy” yet feeling no such compulsion to keep the big electricity conglomerates—one of which is run by Bush friend Kenneth Lay—from shutting off our lights?

How about his intent to bugger the First Amendment by dispensing government monies to “faith-based” organizations, or his tax plan that threatens to run up the deficit again while further increasing the gap between rich and poor?

Even if I'm dead wrong in my assessment of each of these issues, aren't they the ones that should be benefiting from national scrutiny right now, not whether Bill Clinton pulled another turd out of his hat? Grrr.

On the other hand, the Anaheim House of Blues may not be such a bad thing. Along with bringing in the mega-funky George Clinton this Saturday (and, hey, did you see that sizzling Jill Scott show at the Sun Theatre on Valentine's Day?), the club—already being referred to by many as the Mouse of Blues—has been presenting roots music nights with local masters such as James Intveld and Chris Gaffney. While the music can be a tough sell locally—note the recent folding of the Abilene Rose—the House of Blues has a built-in audience of people from the surrounding “resort” hotels who will flock to the club no matter who is appearing. Excellence finds an audience! Who'da thunk it?

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