Archive for November, 2005

Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores Attacked, Owner Kidnapped

Monday, November 28th, 2005

(Updated 11/29) Vandals in suits and bow-ties burned down an Oakland liquor store early Monday morning and kidnapped the Middle Eastern-born owner, who was found in the trunk of a car Monday afternoon. They were apparently the same vandals who smashed cases and displays last Wednesday. Both stores attacked belonged to the Yemini American Grocery Association and were targeted because they were selling alcohol. Said one store owner: “They asked us if we were Muslim. When we said ‘yes,’ one of them said that good Muslims shouldn’t be poisoning the community with alcohol, or something like that.” Police have suggested the vandals have ties to a local community of Black Muslims.

The Nation of Islam is condemning the attacks. Another prominent Black Muslim group in the neighborhood has been unavailable for comment and police have not ruled out that they are under suspicion.

This happened two blocks from my house. I was in the liquor store the other night arguing with the clerk because he thought my New York ID might be fake. Ultimately, they were nice guys. The whole thing is really odd and horrible to me because it seems the local Black Muslims are targeting Muslim immigrants and acting as religious enforcers.

Adventures in Renting

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

This is a story I wrote for a project that never really went anywhere, but I think it’s pretty funny.

Ten AM. God my head hearts. What’s that pounding? I wish I could just get back to sleep. Stop pounding, sleep it off. What happened last night? Damn my head’s never literally pounded like this before…

Shit, the door. Who the fuck would come to my house at this time in the morning? Anybody who knows me knows to stay the fuck away from my house before noon, really before one or two. Who the fuck is this?

I was bare ass naked. I threw a pair of pants on that didn’t fit, riding down to expose a bush of pubic hair, and stumbled out to get the door, squinting in the morning sunlight.

That’s a fucking cop.
What the fuck’s a cop doing here?
When I opened the door I was looking down at the cop from a step below me. He was staring up at me in that stupid cop way, that he may not know what, but he’s sure I’ve done something wrong.

“Yeah?” I greeted sleepily.
“Is that your car?” The cop pointed. It was my roommate’s.
“Do you know who’s car it is?”
“Uh… he lives in the building.”
“Well the registration’s expired.”

You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. Why are you snooping around back here anyway? The car’s parked behind a fence, completely invisible unless you go behind a grocery store, up the dirt driveway to the house, and peek around a fence to see what’s going on. So you’re spying on me?

“Yeah?” was all I really said.
“Yeah, tell him that he has to fix that, or else he has to get a junk permit for it and shouldn’t be driving it.”
“Have a good day.”
“You too…” fucker.

I turned around. There was my roommate and I don’t think I ever saw the man look so confused.

“Was that a fucking cop?”
“What the fuck did he want?”
“Your registration’s expired.”

I was wrong, my roommate looked even more confused now.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope. Register it or get a junk permit.”

I went back to bed. Head was still pounding, but the noise was gone. I stared up at the paper-patched raccoon hole in my ceiling and thought about the rotting shingles outside.

The man certainly had his priorities.

The police, as a whole, always have their priorities. Rich men constantly break the law, but they will never be arrested by an ordinary cop. But often, if the officer was aware of the law, such violations are blatant. Many buildings inhabiting human beings for money clearly should be drastically renovated or condemned. Restaurants leave the back door of their kitchens wide open flaunting their abysmal state of cleanliness for all the world to see, dumpsters spilling into the alley behind the store. If cops can come poking around for expired registrations, they can come poking around for overflowing dumpsters. But they don’t.

People scoff at the idea, and say that’s not the officer’s job. I beg, what’s the difference? Ethically, why is purse snatching a more pressing matter than poor insulation, locks that don’t work and rodent infestation? “To protect and serve,” they say, but to protect and serve whom? Granted, there are government agencies established to combat the indiscretions of the rich, but at the very least it must be admitted that there is class distinction in the methods of policing. Often suspects can be detained and arrested because they “fit a description.” I’ve got another lawbreaking description for you: fat, white and wealthy. Running a slum should be an arrestable offense, like drinking and driving, shoplifting, and smoking pot.

Once we went through the proper channels and called the Board of Health for an inspection. Boy was the landlord pissed. First time he’d called me in months, ranting and raving about how we should have called him rather than health inspectors. The problem was that I had been calling him, and it didn’t really get results. At some point a pipe had started leaking between the floors, directly over our toilet. Every time I sat down on it, my feet sat in a horrifying puddle on the floor, and my head felt the drip-drip-drip. It smelled terrible. It was health hazardous and just plain unappealing to set foot in my bathroom. Repeated phone calls and this still took two months for the plumbers to come through to fix the problem. The plumbers had to cut a hole in our ceiling and it remained there for several more months, until our call to the Board of Health.

The super got in pretty quickly and started making repairs. I felt bad for the guy, he was overworked in the first place. Not only was he servicing the four apartments in the building, but the two organic grocery stores that our fearless landlord owned as well. One day the landlord showed up with him, and asked to look over the lease. This has to be one of the more frightening powers that one man can have over another, when he inspects the legal arrangement that allows the other to have a home.

“Just a month to month, huh?”
“Well, there’s going to be some big changes around here pretty soon, I think.”
“What kind of changes?”
“Changes in occupancy.”
“Are you threatening to evict me?” I’d done my homework. According to the State of Massachusetts, he was not allowed to threaten eviction because we had demanded repairs. The law would be on my side. I may still be homeless, but the law was on my side.

“Well, this building may be coming down pretty soon.”

He laughed, and relaxed a little bit, “I’m sorry. It’s just that this building has been a constant source of headaches for me. Insurance costs, repairs, it seems like something’s constantly going wrong with it. It just seems like it would be easier to tear the whole thing down and be done with it.”

He was laughing, but my apprehension was turning quickly to ferocity while he spoke.

“Look, your headache is my home. Show some respect.” I said it with a calmness and dignity that I probably won’t soon repeat.

And after that, he did.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

As a special treat, here is the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving theme [MP3] for all to enjoy. For me this conjurs up images of Snoopy serving up a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner of pretzel sticks, jelly beans and toast.

In other news, you may have noticed the newswire feature to your right. These are interesting links I find in my days of websurfing, either humorous, political or just interesting. One thing that should be clear: I write the headlines. So if the headline says a little bit more, that’s all me, and not the Guardian or whatever.

Charlie Brown Jazz II

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

In 1964, Charles Schulz had been drawing Peanuts for 15 years. The strip had grown beyond its rudimentary situations and characters, when the children still acted like children and Snoopy acted like a real dog. Now the children were still children, they ate candy bars and went to the movies and played baseball, but while they were doing it they would contextualize their activities by discoursing on philosophy, mental health, and the nuances of religion. Instead of selling mud pies on the side of the road they were selling psychiatry.

Schulz had already been approached several times by Hollywood producers seeking to make an animated Peanuts film or television series, but he had turned them all down. Peanuts was on a rollercoaster of popularity at that point and merchandise was being produced as quickly as it could be approved. And for every item that was produced there were at least ten being turned down: Schulz insisted on personally approving every way his characters were merchandised.

But that year Schulz was approached by producer Lee Mendelson about creating a documentary about Schulz and the creation of his strip. Schulz had enjoyed Mendelson’s previous documentary on one of his heroes, Willie Mays, and agreed to meet with Mendelson. The following year Mendelson produced a short documentary on Schulz, notable for two reasons: short cartoons created by Schulz’s friend Bill Melendez, who had already created several animated commercials for Ford Motors, and the score composed by rising jazz star Vince Guaraldi.

The documentary never aired. The soundtrack was collected onto an album titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and was a modest success. The animations were noticed by Coca-Cola, but rather than sponsor the documentary they were more interested in producing a Peanuts Christmas special. It was that show that established the Peanuts television specials as a television institution; a second soundtrack album by Guaraldi expanded on many of the same themes as Charlie Brown and permanently grafted his music to the animated Peanuts.

But it was A Boy Named Charlie Brown that introduced the themes that were to recur during the next decade of Peanuts animated specials, mostly character themes for the principal characters: Charlie Brown has two themes himself, and another for his constant utterance, Good Grief. There is a theme for Baseball, for Schroeder, even for Freida, the girl with the naturally curly hair. The Freida theme was almost never used in conjunction with her character, and instead popped up during a bit of mischief or humor, including one scene where Linus, lollipop in hand, destroys a pile of dry leaves freshly raked by Charlie Brown. His lollipop covered by leaves, he advises Charlie Brown: “never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.”

By far the most famous tune to emerge from the album is the one most closely associated with the Peanuts specials: the theme of the siblings, Linus and Lucy. It’s a rambunctious and rowdy piano tune, threatening yet funny, that thoroughly explored the dynamism in their relationship. It is commonly referred to today as the “Peanuts Theme,” perhaps because its the catchiest, or perhaps because by encompassing two of the four strongest personalities, (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy) much of the group dynamic was already captured. Regardless, it remains the most recognized and covered tune Guaraldi ever comitted to tape, a jazz standard.

Its effectiveness in musically portraying the two characters can be seen in the beginning of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, where Linus and Lucy set out to find a jack o’lantern. After Lucy finds the largest pumpkin poor Linus could possibly carry, they head for home. When Linus comes to a hole in the fence the pumpkin couldn’t possibly pass through, he decides to roll it home, happily pushing the pumpkin along until he realizes it’s out of control, and desperately tries to stop it. When he hurts himself in the process, Lucy shows only irritation, and takes the pumpkin into the house herself. Once inside she pulls out a giant knife and starts scooping the pumpkin guts out. Linus wails to Lucy, “you didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!” All to the beat of that irresistibly catchy tune.

Compared to the bustle of Linus and Lucy Charlie Brown’s themes are very plain and quiet. It’s no wonder the former tune took off to become the most recognizable theme, Charlie Brown’s theme is best suited to epilogues and fadeouts, not to kick off the ride. Charlie Brown’s success in real life has always been similar to his role in his cartoon life: his plain personality relegates him to the background, despite that he is a superstar.

There are all-encompassing tracks as well, like the appropriately solemn and introspective track Happiness Is, named for the recurring Peanuts theme that spawned a short book, Happiness is a Warm Puppy. In Peanuts, happiness wasn’t so much felt as it was sought and analyzed.

The other encompassing theme, Baseball, seems more at task to capture the game itself, certainly a worthy endeavor, but unfortunately unconcerned with Schulz’s conception of baseball and how he used it narratively. For Schulz, the baseball diamond was a place of discussion, of philosophy, religion and ideas, and also a place of deep, persistent loss. The tune comes off as more “take me out to the ballgame” than really capturing what a consistent disappointment the baseball games were to the children. In Guaraldi’s defense, Schulz was still developing the baseball device at the time. Regardless, this tune was probably a bit too complex to ever catch on as the main theme, despite its inclusion of all the characters.

The most noticeable absence from this collection is Snoopy, who has no music of his own. The album was recorded in 1965 when the strip was more driven by the group dynamics of the children than Snoopy’s fantasy life. That side of the strip was only beginning to emerge, and it would be a year before Snoopy donned his flight cap in pursuit of the Red Baron. But in subsequent years more music would be written for Snoopy than any other character, and many that were suited for him alone, including the second most famous tune of the specials: Joe Cool.

The album features several other tracks that work better as stand-alone jazz compositions than accompaniment for the Peanuts cartoons. This isn’t particularly surprising considering that Guaraldi’s Peanuts work was reminiscent of a sound he had already developed over the first half of his career, most notably in his biggest hit, Cast Your Fate Into the Wind, which could easily have appeared in any number of Peanuts specials.

Following the completion of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi’s work was dominated by producing for the subsequent Peanuts specials, and he contributed the music for the next fifteen specials before his untimely death at 47. The final Peanuts special he contributed to was It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, which aired on March 16, 1976.

So where’s the rest of the music? Only two albums for fifteen specials, and they were for the first two shows? Well, actually there were three. Until recently. I’ll dive into all that next time.

The Peanuts Animation Page
Vince Guaraldi Biography from the Peanuts Collectors Club
Peanuts Timeline
The Official Vince Guaraldi Site

Part I | Part III


Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

Well, the only guy who really responds to my articles is my dad, but since he had some interesting points I thought I’d take a minute to answer some of them here.

I am always amazed at how inept the democrats are at attacking Bush. On TV talk shows there is usually a representative from each side. The left says Bush lied about WMD and the right says he didn’t lie, everybody thought the same thing, which is not true, but the left says nothing. The fact is everybody thinks we know because we have a large network of spies and satellites, so they believe us. Powell went to the UN to convince the doubters with pictures from space which he claimed to be WMD but which could have been anything. If you keep saying the same thing over and over, eventually people believe you. Congress should have known, but even they may have thought that Bush had info they didn’t have. However, they should have demanded to see it instead of giving up their authority. Only Hans Blix knew the truth. He kept asking them to tell him where to look, and everywhere he went he found nothing. But his voice was too small.

Damn straight. Colin Powell’s been getting off too easy lately. He’s the one that went to the UN to present the evidence, so clearly he had access to it, why didn’t he realize it was shoddy? Or is he accusing the CIA of tampering with it? Either way, he should be up to a little more than whining “I didn’t know” on the talk shows. Dude, how do you get WMD out of this???

And on the Charlie Brown tip he had this to say:

I found your musical epiphany very interesting. I think there is something about music or sounds which can spiritually transport people back to their early years. I think psychologists are even studying this phenomenon. When I was very young I watched very primitive Felix the Cat cartoons, probably from the twenties since there was no talking, on a very primitive TV. The cartoons were accompanied by music which was nothing more than background noise to me and there was no explanation of what it was. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later that I realized as I listened to certain pieces of music that something long forgotten awakened in me. It took me a while to make the connection to Felix the Cat, but once I did I was sure it was correct. The music was Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bizet’s Children’s Games. Even now whenever I run across route 9 with Melonie, my feet beat out a rhythm which is translated in my mind into Bizet’s music.

According to this site about Vince Guaraldi, using classic themes in animation is commonplace and musicians working on classic animation were often incredibly creative in their choices of themes and arrangements:

Just in passing, staunch fans of quality animation music should seek these three CDs: two volumes of “The Carl Stallings Project,” which feature themes, variations, and a few complete Warner Brothers cartoon soundtracks; and “Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights,” which showcases the wildly original Raymond Scott compositions excerpted by Stallings. Scott was decades ahead of his time; you’ve truly never heard anything like this stuff before…except in just about every Warner Brothers cartoon ever made.

Now that they mention it, I do remember that Warner Brother’s music being pretty cool. But this made me curious about Felix the Cat, a cartoon not exactly in reruns on Saturday mornings, and I found this site, and man is that stuff cool. They even have a collection of music and videos so maybe you can track down that lost theme, or at least enjoy some hillarious silent cartoons with top-notch music.

In recent incidents of the pot calling the kettle black…

Friday, November 11th, 2005

Bush accuses Democrats of trying to rewrite the history of how the war began.

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

Bush’s Last Stand

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

Poor Harriet Miers. I really wanted to see her appointed to the Supreme Court. Sure she was an inexperienced, unqualified, political, campaign-employed crony, with deep roots in the Bush Administration’s seemingly boundless corruption, but she was harmless. She would have stepped into the position with her head down, intimidated by the authoritative legal voices all around her, quietly enjoying the cushiest job a lawyer ever could, a fringe benefit of befriending George W. Bush.

But conservatives cried, rightly, that she was a crony, picked because of loyalty and not because of credentials, that she had no experience in matters of judicial law, and her job these past few years involved mostly damage control for the President’s political campaign. Liberals were so astonished that the President’s own party turned on him so decisively that they mostly watched as Harriet Miers was taken down so rapidly that by the time this Boondocks cartoon strip hit the stands, it was out of date.

It would seem lately that Bush has had trouble making decisions, and the shrewd political manipulation of Karl Rove is becoming ineffective.

It leads one to wonder how all this time he’s known just the right thing to say, and now he seems to always know the wrong thing. Maybe his lust for war really always was about a tap on the shoulder from his father’s old friends. Perhaps Bush isn’t as socially conscious as he lets on sometimes, (he seemed to lose interest in gay marriage pretty quickly) and that’s to please the leaders of his party in the south and midwest. Maybe comedians and cartoonists everywhere have been right all along and the President really is, well, just stupid.

Recent developments suggest that the corruption of the Bush administration will be dealt with. His poor leadership has finally been realized, and years-long investigations into misconduct are finally bearing fruit.

President Bush’s popularity may sink lower. He may become a liability for the Republicans.
As his polls slip from hurricanes and his cabinet is cleaned by independent investigators, to save face many Republicans may distance themselves from the Presidency and even participate in removing the President or his people. Even his closest allies may abandon him, denounce him, and let him go down with the ship. A trumped up rich boy that screwed it all up just like everything else in his life.

It would seem that liberals have cause to celebrate now that Bush has been discredited as a President and the Republican Party is fractured. But beneath all the political tricks and rhetoric, the real problem plaguing this country is not George Bush, nor his administration. We see now whom the President must ultimately answer to: the movement of social conservatives that he helped cultivate.

Even without George Bush, the dogmatic morality of modern conservatism will continue to appeal to Christians. It has grown far stronger in recent years as war has been declared against us on Religious grounds. To respond on those same grounds has proven incredibly inflammatory, yet our country has reveled in it. How long will the influence of this philosophy be felt? How strong will it survive the problems plaguing Bush?

The Bush Administration is going to try and accomplish one last thing before it loses all the credibility and power it’s built up these past four years: it has one last opportunity to keep this country on the track it set it on, so perhaps the Republicans can find a way to pick up where they left off.

The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Jr., is the Bush Administration’s parting insurance policy: an extremely conservative judge that will solidify a right-wing court through the next administration. For five years now, the most dreaded moment of the Bush presidency for liberals has been the Supreme Court nominations, that this deeply conservative administration would have an impact on legal philosophy for a generation. It is even reasonable to imagine that Rove planned this development since the moment the Miers nomination was announced: the democrats wouldn’t dare oppose a second nominee.

The danger of this appointment is not about overturning Roe v. Wade, that would be a foolish political endeavor which would accomplish nothing but unleashing a fury of angry citizens. It is about the shaping of the United States over the next several decades. It is about the behavior of the court and its regard to people and their guaranteed rights.

For example, perhaps abortion would not be outlawed, but legislation that would require women to notify their husbands before having an abortion would be allowed to stand. And the scope of this administration has been much larger than the social issues like abortion and gay marriage that many Christians seem to find so appealing.

Consider the erosion of civil liberties since September 11, 2001. Much of the offensive legislation has yet to be dealt with in the courts, and may not be until after the confirmation of Alito. In a court led by Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Stevens and Alito, would these laws necessarily be viewed as unconstitutional?

The recent decision Hamdi v. Rumsfled granted rights to U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants. But three dissented, finding little or no fault with the administration: Scalia, Stevens and Thomas. If Roberts and Alito were inclined to vote with them, three could easily become five.

And perhaps that would only be the first step. In the last four years this country has become a very different place very quickly. While the shift toward the right may slow down now, it has not halted. Everyone concerned about civil liberties and the political future of this country needs to stay on their guard, because we’re not out of the woods yet.