Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction),  jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Cuba libre

Alpha 66 is not happy.

Alpha 66 is not happy.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba is pretty inexplicable. We have close relations with Viet Nam. We may have more direct connections with North Korea than we do with Cuba. Why have we continued this ridiculous embargo and non-recognition so long? Fidel tossed Batista (and the Mob) out in 1959. That was 55 years ago.

Because of Florida, that’s why. Specifically because of Florida on two days every four years. One of those days is the Republican presidential primary. The other is the day we vote for president. By an accident of political geography, it’s been impossible for a presidential candidate to say that as president he would lift the embargo and exchange ambassadors with Cuba without committing political suicide.

There are a lot of Cubans in Florida, a million of them, and most of them in the greater Miami area. The vast majority of them came to America as refugees or are the children or grandchildren of refugees. Some came immediately after the Revolution, many fleeing for their lives ahead of Che’s execution squads. Some dribbled in later, defecting or escaping. And many were dumped in Florida by Fidel himself during the Mariel Boatlift. US law gives asylum and a fast track to citizenship to any Cuban who appears on our shores or at our airports. (Compare with Haitians who, not having a communist government, are sent back to Haiti if caught.) The result of this open arms policy has been a large voting bloc in the state of Florida who have one issue and one issue only–their loathing of Fidel Castro. Well there are other issues, but toss Cuba into the mix they suddenly have just one issue. That is a lot of voters voting on just one issue, so many voters that all by themselves they can turn an election into a victory for the candidate who says what they want to hear about Cuba.

Now it starts to get complicated. The electoral college, that inane fossil invented back in 1787 to get the constitution ratified by all thirteen colonies, elects the president based on the votes of the electors of each state. The number of elector per state is equal to the number of congressmen plus the two senators. Almost every state is winner take all–that is whoever gets the most votes in the election gets all of the electoral votes. (It’s an archaic system, infuriating, an embarrassment, but we seem to be stuck with it.) Florida is a big state. It has a lot of electoral votes. I believe only Texas and California and New York have more. And since New York and California always vote Democratic and Texas always votes Republican, that makes Florida the largest number of electoral votes that either side have a shot at winning in one state. So many electoral votes, in fact, that whoever wins Florida tends to win the presidency. The Republicans can’t win the presidency at all without Florida. The Democrats can finesse a win without Florida, but it’s a must win for the Republicans. And Florida is complicated…the northern third is majority Republican, the lower third majority Democratic, and in between it’s mixed up, voting one way or the other. The Democrats win Florida by weakening the Republican base, getting less Republicans to vote. The Republicans win by getting every Republican to vote. Cuban Americans, though in the southern third of Florida, and because they hate Castro so much, are generally Republican. Republicans need to get them to the polls in big numbers. They are an essential part of any Republican strategy for winning Florida. And there is only one way to get Cuban Americans to the polls in big numbers. You have to play the Fidel card. You have to rant and rave about Castro like his continued existence is the most dangerous thing facing America. That a communist Cuba is an existential threat to freedom and Democracy. You have to pull out every cold war cliché in the Republican paranoia playbook. And if a Republican is craven enough–the Bay of Pigs will be avenged!–he can get the Cubans out to the polls in a big way, cursing Fidel and waving little American flags. And that is how Republicans win Florida, and win the presidency. They talk trash about Fidel and insinuate conspiracies between Democrats and communists to end the embargo. That is why, every October in a presidential election year, Republicans appear on Miami television stations to talk about Fidel Castro. They need those Cuban votes. And Democrats have to downplay any talk of lifting the Embargo to avoid firing up the Cubans so they rush out to vote for the Republican in even greater numbers. The Democratic nominee tiptoes around the Cuban-American voters while the Republican throws them raw meat.    

Of course it won’t be the first time that the Republican presidential nominee hated Castro that election year. That same Republican would have already been on those same Miami television stations talking about Fidel Castro back in March with all the other Republican candidates for president. They came out of the New Hampshire primary in February, where no one talks about Castro, and into South Carolina, where maybe Castro came up in passing. Then comes Super Tuesday, with a whole mess of primaries on the same day, and the Republican presidential candidates are racing from state to state campaigning and making media appearances and finally focusing in Florida in a big way because there are so many delegates at stake, far more than probably any other state on Super Tuesday. Each candidate has very little time to make their case and get supporters to the polls. Miami is like a magnet, all these Cuban-American Republicans, and all you have to do is be the one who hates Castro the most. One after another the various Republican candidates appear on Miami television, and man do they hate Castro. Some even hate Castro in Spanish. They pose waving little Cuba Libre flags. Cuba Libre they say. They sway to the salsa band, eat some flan. They are all about Cuba. They better be. They won’t win the primary without the Cuban vote, and Florida being a winner take all states with their Republican delegates, whoever wins Florida might just have the nomination sewn up. So each Republican candidate winds up working Miami like crazy, trying to get the Cuban vote on Super Tuesday. Any Republican honest or foolhardy enough to even hint at normalizing relations with Cuba would be beaten because the Cubans would vote for the Republican who was most hardline on Cuba. Indeed, often Republicans wind up their Super Tuesday campaigns in Miami, speaking Spanish and eating flan and hating Castro.

And then after the convention the Republican nominee–who in all likelihood had won the Cuban vote in the primary–couldn’t dare hedging even a smidge on his anti-Castro statements for fear that his supporters, outraged at his betrayal would stay home on election day. So there he is again in October, walking the streets of Miami waving a Cuba Libre flag and eating more flan. He hates Castro he says again in bad Spanish, hates him more than anything. In fact, more often than not the hoarse and exhausted Republican candidate finishes up the campaign in November with a couple stops in Florida, including Miami. Cuba Libre he says, holding one last dish of flan.

It’s hard to imagine another ethnic group living in one place that has had such a profound and decisive effect on presidential elections and on one issue and one issue alone. It’s an accident of political geography, a battleground state of singular importance in both the Republican party nomination race and in the general election, a state evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and thus winnable by either, and a state that can sew up both the Republican nomination and the election of a Republican president, but only with the fervent support of the state’s Cuban Americans. And what makes fervent voters of those Cuban Americans? Fidel Castro. They hate him, and the Republican who appears to hate him as much as they do gets their votes. It’s simple, logical, and has kept us in a cold war with Cuba long past the end of the Soviet Union and even communism itself.

Of course I’ve over simplified the story and left out a lot of variables. But I think I’ve gotten the gist of it across. And it’s beginning to change. There aren’t many Cubans showing up on our beaches anymore, the original hardliners are dying off and the children and especially the grandchildren have been assimilated into American culture now. Cuba is simply not as important to them as it was to their grandfathers. They see other issues. They don’t vote as a bloc. Many register as Democrats. Worse still, for Republicans, they are offended by the Republican’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric. They, after all, were immigrants. They spoke Spanish. They don’t like being called wetbacks. A lot of Republican rank and file don’t seem to want Cubans in their party at all.

Obama, I’m sure, carefully calculated the political risks for Democrats in Florida in 2016. A solid Republican win in Florida would almost assuredly mean a Republican president. But looking at 2008 and 2012, the Cuban votes weren’t there in such huge numbers for Republicans. Not like before. Cuban Americans are no longer the monolithic voting bloc they once were. They are still majority Republican, but not enough to put a Republican over the top by themselves. Republicans still have to play by the old rules, because they need those Cuban-American votes desperately, it’s just there aren’t as many of those votes as before. At last, it seems, a Democratic president can do the right thing without handing the White House to another Bush. It’s about time. The embargo is an absurdity, counter productive. Why hand Cuba over to Chinese trade? It’s just off our coast. We should be going there, and the Cubans should be visiting here, and not just as defectors and boat people. Guys like the two in the picture above can rant and rave all they want. At least they aren’t murdering people now. They used to. Being a Cuban in Miami and saying the embargo should be lifted could get you killed. Alpha 66 were scary guys. Now they’re old and their grandchildren want to go to Cuba on vacation.

And who knows, a Cuban Spring might happen. This could be the thing that opens up Cuba politically, and opens up its prison gates and lets the political prisoners go free. Cuba is the last dictatorship in the western hemisphere. That can’t last now. One party rule will go the way of the wind.

Killing children again….

That school massacre in Peshawar was harsh. Really harsh. I heard about it on the BBC this morning and I froze, coffee in hand, just listening, my mind filling with horrific images, screaming kids, gunfire, kids never moving again. I imagined the parents. The gunmen, complete with ladder, climbing over the wall, spreading out, taking out room after room. I listened and my coffee grew cold and I never did eat breakfast.

There seems to have been a number of terrorist school massacres lately. I don’t know if it’s an increase above the statistical norm or not. We have short memories for these things, things we tend to block from our mind anyway. No one wants to dwell on school massacres. And those that do–like the vile freaks insisting that the Sandy Hook massacre was a fraud, an acting job, even calling grieving parents to tell them so–are disturbing to say the least. But as people have less children now–families are much smaller than they were a generation ago in nearly all parts of the world–you can see why schools would be an enticing target for terrorists. If families still had six to ten children, losing a couple in a massacre does not mean the end of the line. But if you have only two children, then losing one or two is all the more horrible. The value for terrorists goes up. I suspect that schools will increasingly become targets for cold blooded terrorist operations. It is hard to imagine a place where more damage could be done. The fear and intimidation would be devastating. This might be a portent for the future. We might see a lot more of this. It seems that people have grown inured to car bombs in public markets. People learn to live with them, knowing that, odds are, they’ll never be caught in one. And once people become used to terrorism, it loses effectiveness. Terrorists need to come up with new tactics continuously. In China they’ve begun random stabbing sprees, a return to a technique of the pre-gunpowder days. The effect has been devastating. Beheading in Iraq has been effective as well. And now will it be schools? After all, it’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than knowing that suicidal gunmen could creep into your children’s school and slaughter every child they find, especially if both of your children are at the school. The Taliban gunmen in Peshawar did just that, going from room to room, methodically killing children with their automatic rifles. There’s nothing especially sociopathic about this. We’d like to think there is, but it’s not necessary at all. Indeed, sociopaths–think Sgt. Robert Bales in Afghanistan, deserting his post to slaughter those families–are actually not the kind of man you need for a mission like this. These were trained and disciplined Taliban soldiers on a mission. Their job was to kill as many children as possible before being killed themselves. They performed well. One hundred and thirty two crumpled little bodies. Nine adults as well, essentially collateral casualties as they were not the actual target. The targets were the children. The loss of the seven gunmen was well within acceptable level in asymmetric warfare. Doubtlessly the mission is being reviewed just like this by the mission planners. Indeed, something quite similar to this very essay might be a powerpoint presentation on a terrorist website right now. The plan was so debased and awful and logical. Evil has a way of making sense sometimes, complete and terrible sense, and all we can do is wonder what is wrong with those people.

Coffins stacked in readiness at a Peshawar hospital as casualties were brought in. (Photo from Reuters, no idea who took the shot.)

Coffins stacked and ready at a Peshawar hospital as casualties are brought in. (Photo from Reuters, no idea who took the shot.)

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One third of a penny per word

An editor–a great guy, actually, I have nothing but respect for him–asked me to write a review. 600 words, $50. I figured in expenses, and after parking and a couple drinks I could knock $30 off that. So that comes to $20 for 600 words. Breaking that down by word it comes to about a third of a penny per word. That’s right, a third of a penny per word. There was a time when a good writer made a buck a word, a really good writer two bucks a word. The very first piece I wrote for the LA Weekly–which had been an email, they asked me if they could print it–I got about 50 cents a word. That works out to be 150 times as much per word as I would make writing the review I was asked to do. Or flip it around, I’d make 150 times less now writing than I did before I was even a real writer. You’d be hard pressed to find wage deflation like that in any other profession. The lack of respect for writers anymore is beyond insulting. It’s nearly dehumanizing. And since I am burdened with pride and feelings of self worth, I can’t be bothered to write for that kind of Dickensian pittance.

So I blog. There is dignity in that at least. No future–there are a zillion blogs–but then I’m not crawling across the floor, writing for pennies. Too much stubborn Irish pride in these bones. I remember when I quit the Weekly someone yelled at me–a lot of people yelled at me, still do–that I had some nerve quitting. I had a responsibility to my readers to write. I owe it to them, she said. I said the pay’s not worth it. She said it wasn’t about the money. I should write for free, it’s your duty as a writer. And I heard this from more than just her. Editors told me that. Other writers told me that. Fans told me that. Musicians, who ought to know better, told me that. I don’t get that at all. So I just ignore all of them. Politely, but still I ignore them. I mean if someone wants me to write for them, pay me. Pay me real money. Nothing huge, just real money. Otherwise, and I mean this most politely, just fuck off.

I got a $2 parking ticket in Los Angeles

I got a $2 parking ticket in Los Angeles.

It was in Atwater Village. Nice little neighborhood just across the river from us. I’d gone to a record store there to sell some old jazz LPs. It’s been one of those character building years in a jazz critic’s life, and I’ve built a lot of character this year. Anyway, I put 30 minutes worth of change into the meter. A quarter’s worth of parking. I had two quarters on me but figured why waste the other two bits? Selling the records took longer than I expected because some old couple came in for some inane reason and it took a while for the owner–a sweet, considerate guy–to answer their silly questions before they split. They had lots of questions, all beside the point. 35 minutes passed before the guy could give me $61. I stepped outside to see the parking cop pulling away. So that $63 parking ticket cost me only $2.

I call that a bargain.

Crooning

Oh wow, I recognized Matt Monro’s voice. Matt Monro. An obscure tune from an obscure movie, too. Southern Star was no Born Free. Sigh….I can recognize so many crooners by voice alone it creeps me out. When I was a kid I hated that crooning shit. That’s what I called it. I loved my dad’s big band music but couldn’t stand the crooners my mom used to swoon to. Album after album of them. Vaughn Monroe and Al Martino and Tony Martin. Frank Fontaine, Vic Damone, and Sergio Franchi. Eddie Fisher, that bum. But I find myself liking Andy Williams and Robert Goulet and not minding Steve Lawrence at all. Steve Lawrence? Yes, Steve Lawrence. Is this what getting old is like? Sleepy becomes a good thing? Oh god. Look at me, one Matt Monro tune and I’m shaking. Another aging rock’n’roll kid terrified that memories of Perry Como will morph into nostalgia.

A very young Matt Monro, no idea who's conducting the orchestra outside the booth. I'm assuming it's a London studio. Copped this from mattmonro.com.

A very young Matt Monro, no idea who that is outside the booth conducting the orchestra. I’m assuming it’s a London studio. Copped this from mattmonro.com.

 

National anthems

Hockey on television again. Kings at Leafs in Toronto. Where do Canadians find these anthem singers? I admit I’ve never thought much of the Star Spangled Banner as a tune–hell, the original was a dirty drinking song, the land of the free and home of the brave was the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine. (I’ll let you wiki “myrtle of Venus”.) And back in school we learned all kinds of other perfectly good songs that could make much better national anthems, America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), America the Beautiful, that redistributionist anthem This Land Is Your Land, the Battle Hymn of the Republic which promised fire and brimstone for segregationists when I was in grade school but seemed awfully blood thirsty after the Tet Offensive. It was assumed that the goofy Star Spangled Banner would fall by the wayside, if only because it wasn’t singable except by a sober Irish tenor, itself a problem. Alas, Aretha Franklin showed people how to wail around those high notes, faking it, and all these people who will never be Aretha Franklin in a zillion years now fake it too. Up and down the scales like a roller coaster, land of the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee….. In Canada, though, they don’t do the free-yee-yee-yee-YEE-yee thing. No, being Canadians, they find undrunk tenors who go at it with pseudo-operatic fervor like Gilbert and Sullivan at a Stampede talent show. You have never heard the Star Spangled Banner till you’ve heard it sung by a Canadian. Stiff, formal, unsqueaked. The crowd boos patriotically. It’s embarrassing. The only saving grace for Americans is that it’s followed by O Canada. You’d be hard pressed to find a lousier national anthem than O Canada. It’s like a Gregorian chant with most of the monks missing. A melody without the melodic parts. A national dirge. The tune was a contest winner, too. Seriously, they had a national anthem contest. (They had a flag contest too. Until then it was all Union Jack and God Save the Queen.) Apparently O Canada (which means “the Canada” in Portuguese) was the best any Canadian could come up with in 1967. All the musical talent in that country and they come up with this? It’s based on a melody from the Magic Flute, which is a step up from our own English drinking song, but somehow Mozart doesn’t come to mind while watching the guy in the Maple Leafs jersey belting it out in a reedy tenor. About half way through the audience joins in. “Beneath thy shining skies, may stalwart sons, and gentle maidens rise”, and then roar “we stand on guard for thee!” Good lord. Drop the puck already.

They're listening to the freaking song.

They’re listening to the freaking song.

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Summer of Love

The Reluctant Astronaut is on. Some channel is having a Don Knotts marathon. (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is next, but I’m not in the mood for gothic horror.) I remember seeing The Reluctant Astronaut at a Saturday matinée in Woodbury, New Jersey.  And I remember thinking it wasn’t the most exciting science fiction movie I’d ever seen, but at ten, perhaps I was already too sophisticated. This was the same theater where a couple months later Son of Flubber caused a riot. Perhaps the kids knew it wasn’t a first run picture in that Summer of Love in 1967. Perhaps we were just blowing off steam. Perhaps we just wanted to die before we got old. Whatever, it sure pissed off the manager. He turned off the projector, turned on the house lights and stormed on down to the front of the theater and glared at us. If we didn’t stop running and shrieking and throwing popcorn he’d kick us all out and there would be hell to pay when our parents came to pick us up. The place grew quiet, the hail of popcorn subsided. That’s better, he said, and the lights came down, the film came on, and there was Fred MacMurray again, Professor Ned Brainard, turning people on to flubber, and everyone was bouncing and floating and high as a kite. Feed your head, Ned said, feed your head, and the kids laughed and shrieked and the popcorn came down like rain.

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