Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Singing the Praises of the Thursday evening open microphone @ CorkScrew Pointe, in McHenry, IL.

Hi Doc - just to try once again to convince you how much fun I had the other night, I'm forwarding to you a letter I sent to Rachael, the ukelele player for H.O.T. Fox (Heart of the Fox), an astonishingly gifted duet which performs their own original work ... featuring the Uke (of course), a Flamenco acoustic guitar underpinning, and a lead female vocalist who makes sounds that can be heard only in mosques -- a not to be missed experience!

Again, thanks for being such a wonderful host, avid listener, and all round good person.

Mark Raymond Ganzer

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Mark Ganzer
To: Rachael, vocalist and ukelele player with Heart Of The Fox
Sent: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 5:17 AM
Subject: An extraordinary open mic venue
Greetings Rachael,

It was such a treat to get to hear you two jamming with the players after the cut you off so early.

Thursday nights, you simply CANNOT MISS the open mic (starting at 7:00 p.m.) hosted by Doc Brown at Corkscrew Pointe. Doc is such a talent, but, as the man in charge of the open mic, he

(a) starts on time
(b) let's every one play
(c) works new folks showing up late into the rotation
(d) follows up with a thank you e-mail the next day

The venue is this incredible dimly lit back room, the martini room, which last Thursday seemed almost as if the assembled (Robin, the acoustic guitar soloist and her two lady friends, Doc, me, and the bar tender) group had been treated to a night at Xanadu hosted by Orson Welles and featuring the three finest musical players no one has ever heard of.

We later were joined by two young high-school aged ladies who sang an original duet, then each sang a solo. The father and mother of the one girl (who also plays the fiddle and has been commanded to bring the fiddle this Thursday upcoming, 14 July, 2011) own the music store in McHenry, and their eldest son runs it.

Later still, a retired postal worker came in and just delighted us with such levity and uplifting songs as "Love Begins with a Tube of Tooth Paste" (and ends the same way).

And even later still, we were joined by a dramatic reader, also named Mark - who read from Jimmy Durante's "Yes, We Have No Banannas," until he dropped his book, lost his place, and couldn't finish the last line! He then proceeded to read two actual letters, on from Ben Franklin, and the other, I believe from George Washington. Quite appropriate so near 4 July.

Hope to see you there this Thursday (they also hold an open mic on Tuesdays, same time, but I do not know the host). lThe owner of the bar uses the open mic to determine who to hire to play to the lunch and dinner crowds. Have I at least piqued your curiousity, darlin'?

Mark Raymond Ganzer

Writing the Unthinkable: Preparing for War with China

Columns : Paris, June 7, 2011 – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Kabul at the start of June talking about withdrawal -- or non-withdrawal -- from Afghanistan, but before he went home he was in Singapore to talk about an enlarged American military engagement in Asia. That was a speech to an International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting, in support of “a robust [U.S.] military presence in Asia.” He said that one of the “principal security challenges” to the United States is that some nation would try to keep it out of Asia.

He said that for some time American naval and air force chiefs “have been concerned about anti-access and area denial scenarios,” and planning how to overcome any effort to block American free movement and deployment “in defense of our allies and vital interests.” This was despite “myopic souls” at home, isolationist spirits, daunted citizens, who doubt the American nation’s strength and determination, and might not support America’s place “as a 21st century Asia-Pacific nation,” imposing itself wherever it will, despite whatever obstacle.

He ended the Singapore talk by telling a questioner who doubted the permanence of a quasi-proprietary U.S. oversight of the South China Sea and other Chinese foreign preoccupations in the region, including the Taiwan relationship and the North Korean problem, that he would wager 100 dollars that the influence of the United States in Asia would be stronger five years from now than it is today.

Now 100 dollars is not a great deal of money, especially to Mr. Gates, who is accustomed to spending trillions of dollars in military expenditures connected with the global U.S base system, as well as running three simultaneously ongoing wars, or less than ended wars, or prospective wars, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Perhaps that bet should not be taken too seriously; he is well paid and can afford to lose. Yet he could win. Five years are a short period in the life of an empire, and the United States is now a militarized and militarist empire, of benevolent intention in the minds of the people who have been running it under both Democrats and Republicans since the end of the Cold War. Before that it was a fortress nation, focused on a big single threat and a few auxiliary troublemakers. Now it goes in for civilization wars, globally utopian ideologies, and altruistic dominion.

The permanence of this undertaking depends upon the American people, who have shown that they can suddenly change their majority minds. This was an isolated and isolationist society from early after its founding. Despite minor episodes of aggression in Mexico and the splendid little war with Spain, -- the latter seen in Washington as well as Iowa and Oregon as an exercise in political clarification of the incomprehensible Caribbean, and of naval coaling stations and Christian missionaries in the western Pacific -- the American nation took until 1917 to really want to go to war again. Woodrow Wilson held the presidency in 1916 on the slogan that “He Kept Us Out of War,” but he and the people immediately afterwards decided that getting into the war would actually be rather glamorous.

The second world war left the public determined to bring the troops home in a heedless rush, reversed just as quickly when Russia posed a menace. Vietnam ended in a shameless precipitation and lies, the conscripts who had fought it punished by their elders for having done so. Creation of an all-volunteer army afterwards guaranteed that such sunshine patriots and parasitic careerists as Richard Cheney would never again be personally inconvenienced by a national priority.

Now America’s perpetual wars can be conducted by profitable corporations mostly behind the public’s back, while the Members of Congress conduct their private affairs and pick up their envelopes at K Street addresses. But what if the people awakened from their torpor, and realized what was going on?

This is not impossible. The secretary of defense’s Singapore press conference last week was alive with questions of a single tenor: will you protect us if China threatens us? That is why Secretary Gates and the service chiefs make so much of “access” and scenarios of “area denial.” They are thinking of going to war against China. What would those Asian reporters in Singapore think of that? What would an awakened American public think of it? It was advised against by General Douglas MacArthur, a man of greater experience than Mr. Gates; but then Mr. Gates is about to leave the government.

© Copyright 2011 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.

Can Old Empires Give Way to New Communities of Peace?

Columns : Can Old Empires Give Way to New Communities of Peace?

aris, June 14, 2011 – Looking backward, there is a great deal to be said for leaving well enough alone, which is more difficult than one might think. Western Europe in the nineteenth century is now generally looked back upon as having constituted a pinnacle of Western civilization. Certainly in literature, music, and the plastic arts this was so, the last-named in the century’s final decade, when painting ceased its period as domestic decoration and exploded into a myriad of ways to perceive not only the external world but the interior universe as well.

The modern western intelligence was invented then, and the world has since played variations on nineteenth century political themes: nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, populism, class liberation, revolution, anarchism, class and racial warfare. The Napoleonic wars began the century and transformed its political institutions. The Franco-Prussian war ended the century, setting the scene for the hyper-destructive twentieth century. Better to have stayed in the peaceful years of the nineteenth century.

The Ottoman empire finished the century in decline, its political implosion impending, certainly with the West Europeans observing or actively promoting the Balkan and Crimean Wars, trying to take the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires apart (“the “Eastern Question,” to western statesmen of the period), and finally succeeding in doing just that in what was appropriately named “the Great War” (it became the “first” world war only when the “second” one arrived).

There was an article in the papers a few days ago (in The International Herald Tribune), by Anthony Shadid, writing in Gaziantep, Turkey – an old Hittite city, bordering Syria, strategic during the Crusader wars, center of Turkish resistance to the French occupation in 1920-21. He wrote of its people’s nostalgia for the Ottoman past when Turks and Syrians “were brothers.” “What really divides us?,” asks one of the people Shadid spoke with in Gaziantep, having been born across the border, in present-day Syria, once an ancient Ottoman province, and before that a center of Arab Empire.

Shadid writes of the possibility of new (or resurrected) identities’ being established these days in what once was a single realm (the Turkish state replaced what had been the Ottoman polity only in 1923). Today Syrians are crowding the Turkish borders in flight from their own president, Bashar al-Assad, and his family-controlled security forces and army. Prosperous modern Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights publicly decry this ruthless suppression of Syrian protest.

The Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires were medieval in origin, the Ottoman being the eventual version assumed, under the invading rule of Central Asian Turks, of the Muslim Caliphates created when the desert Arabs explosively emerged from Arabia under the inspiration of Muhammad’s teachings, and rapidly conquered the eastern and southern Mediterranean peoples, invaded Spain, and were stopped only by Charles Martel and a French force in the Pyrenees. These “Moors,” as they were called, ruled Spain for seven centuries.

The Turks’ expansion into Balkan and Central Europe was stopped only at Vienna. The recent war of Yugoslav succession, in which Serbs and Croatians tried to drive Muslim Bosnians out of the former Yugoslavia, could be considered the most recent episode in this centuries-old war.

The Hapsburg Empire was more conventional in origin, a product of feudalism and dynastic wars, broken up, like the Ottoman empire, by nineteenth century nationalism, commonly thought a result of the French Revolution but probably more precisely described as a product of education. The peasants and townsmen of nineteenth-century Europe knew who they were, as did the aristocrats. As literacy and education had spread since the Reformation, a class of teachers and aspirant intellectuals came into being who were not content to be the passive subjects of undeserving monarchs and aristocrats, wanted to learn and embellish the origins and history of their native lands, to celebrate its ancient identity and alleged virtues, and eventually – why not? – to rule it themselves.

Their emigrant American relatives eventually agreed, and by the early twentieth century American presidential candidates were promising to liberate oppressed lands in the “Old Country.” Woodrow Wilson and all that. By mid-century, a second world war objective of the Roosevelt administration was to put an end to French and British imperialism.

And so the European empires came to an end. Have their former subjects benefited? If you consider the Yugoslav war, the chaos produced by Israel’s Mid-East presence, and America’s wars and other military interventions in the former Ottoman region, you can scarcely say yes. What formerly was the Hapsburg world is for the most part a different and peaceful place.

The cold war kept Eastern Europe under Soviet occupation, but in the meantime the European Union was invented by West Europeans who had had enough of international and internecine war, and were convinced that above all Germany had to be fitted into a European system that could tame it. This succeeded (even if the Germans today are defying the world on monetary matters!). Twenty-seven European states, all at one or another time part of warring dynastic, nationalistic, or ethno-centric imperial state systems have now found peace.

It has been an astounding achievement, that in 1945 few believed could succeed, and in 1939 none could imagine. Turkey has for years struggled without success to become a member of this European community of peace. Possibly the failure was destiny. There is a Muslim community of peace for Turkey to build and inspire.

© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.

Greece on the Brink - France to the Rescue. by William Pfaff

Columns :

thens, June 29, 2011 – Athens in recent days has
experienced continuing popular protest, sporadically violent, against
the economic austerity program demanded of Greece by the IMF. This
reaction has been more severe than most of those seen elsewhere since
last year’s Wall Street “sub-prime” mortgage scandal, or
collaborative swindle as we might indelicately call it, that provoked
global economic crisis, its prime (or “sub-prime,” let us say)
victims being the ordinary citizens of recklessly indebted national
economies, such as those of Greece and the United States.

Among worldly Greeks, most recognize that Greece itself
invited what the ordinary Greek citizen interprets as victimization –
in particular as victimization by the German government and banks,
implacable critics of Greek profligacy, and until now opponents of
any “bailout” for Greece. The Germans have never paid war
reparations for what they did to Greece, the Greeks will tell you, as
they also accuse the Germans of having stolen Greece’s national gold
reserve during the war.

Ordinary Greeks are nonetheless aware of their country’s
national fiscal insouciance during the good years of the past two
decades – when Greece won the UEFA European Football (soccer)
Championship in 2004, and brilliantly staged the summer Olympic
games, while the Greeks enjoyed unprecedented individual prosperity.

The Harvard-educated Andreas Papandraeou (father of the
present Greek prime minister George Papandraeou) spent years in
political exile in the United States, ending as head of the Economics
Department of the University of California at Berkeley (of all
things, in view of what has followed!). He returned to his homeland
after the collapse of the Greek military dictatorship of 1967-1974,
becoming prime minister in 1981. As one Greek remarked at a recent
meeting here of economic and political observers, the Athens Seminar,
“Andreas brought back from exile an American-style populism, to a
Greek population lacking the economic prudence instilled in most
American families by their native Protestantism.”

The conservative New Democracy governments that followed
the departure of Andreas and held power from 1985 to 2009 contributed
to national irresponsibility. When they left office, Greece had a
deficit of 12.7 percent of GDP, four times the Eurozone limit. The
country had entered the European Union on false pretenses, tolerated
by an EU leadership that believed “Europe” could not be fully
European without Greece’s membership.

Andreas’ son, George, born in the United States and also
educated at Harvard (and in the United Kingdom and Sweden) during his
father’s foreign exile, inherited leadership of his father’s PASOK
(Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party). Possibly he did so reluctantly, as
one of his actions has been to change the electoral system in an
attempt to end “dynastic politics” in the country.

As foreign minister he put and end to the ancient
hostility between Greece and Turkey, sending Greek firefighters to
help the Turks in a national emergency. He was elected Greece’s
prime minister in 2009, just in time for the world crisis – for which
the electorate is now holding him responsible.

However today – June 28 – he won his second vote of
confidence for his austerity program (155 to 138) within days,
despite a 48-hour general strike and massed protestors outside the
parliament. Angela Merkel called this “really good news,” although
the immediate financial community comment was confused, with a
negative bias (as usual). Greece – a miniscule nation of only 11
million people – has recently been the most convenient press and
popular scapegoat for the Eurozone crisis.

The result of France’s effort last weekend to rescue
Greece and the Eurozone still has unclear results. Nicholas
Sarkozy’s weekend announcement of an innovative rescue plan was a
typical French effort to support Europe while fashionable opinion
forecasts default for Greece (and possibly the whole
Eurozone). The French Treasury, the Bank of France and
national bank confederation (the largest European holders of Greek
debt) propose to “roll over” half the Greek debt for thirty years,
allowing debt-holders to take an immediate reimbursement of 30
percent, with 20 percent invested in a “guarantee fund” of 30-year
zero-coupon bonds, with triple-A ratings presumably underwritten by
the IMF, European Central Bank, or the EU itself.

The great advantage of this to banks is that it would allow them to remove
Greek debt from their balance sheets, lodging the debt in an ad hoc
vehicle known on the markets as an SPV. The guarantee fund and the
SPV are designed to attract participation by other European and
foreign banks. The plan in part resembles the “Brady Bonds” solution to
Latin American debt in the 1980s, which allowed creditors to exchange
defaulted bank loans for secure instruments, usually backed by U.S.
Treasury Bonds.

The French invented “Europe” with the coal and steel
community treaty in 1951. They have since driven it forward with
such projects as Concorde, the Airbus industrial airspace alliance
(Boeing’s deadly enemy), the European space agency and its Guiana
launch center, which dominates world commercial airspace, the
European high-speed train network, and the Franco-British European
military link now being tested in Libya.

President Sarkozy’s debt relief plan has won qualified
interest thus far, including from the most important European
financial paper, The Financial Times, but people at the fatally
influential rating agencies are talking about it as a disguised Greek
default. George Papandraeou’s parliamentary victory on Wednesday,
with Angela Merkel’s endorsement, may prove crucial factors in what
will follow.

© Copyright 2011 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights