Archive | Culture

Café Hapa: Bikini Bar Now Open

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess

Cierra at right, and Kat are two baristi on duty regularly at the new Café Hapa, located at the corner of Sports Arena Blvd. and West Point Loma Blvd. The Vietnamese-themed lounge is staffed by a crowd of well dressed women and they’re gaining business daily.

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Saint Jacques Chocolat Meets Caffé Calabria in Old Town

Posted on 16 May 2012 by mburgess


The beauty of Saint Jacques Chocolat is that it’s smooth. It’s not too rich, sweet, overpowering or the usual run-of-the-mill, over-the-top stuff you might find elsewhere. Enjoyed alone, the chocolates are enticing, with a fine finish and long aftertaste. Paired with Caffe Calabria’s Boulangerie Blend or with a good pinot noir, they came into their own and you feeling very satisfied indeed.

The Tasting Bars offer an attactive and well-packaged item that can add much to the menus of San Diego’s cafes. The are 18 small wedges of milk, dark, white or very dark chocolate are packed in clear plastic boxes that are prettily wrapped and tastefully marked. The contents of each weighs 3.37 oz. or 95 grams. The chocolatiers at Saint Jacques envision these boxes may be sold in cafes or individually added to dishes and drinks to add value to a cafes offerings. This expectation does not fall wide of the mark. The chocolate has a lot to offer. Gluten-free creations are also available.

As a local business, Saint Jacques Chocolat deserves your curiosity. It is a new company, based in El Cajon, and it sells its wares out of the Rust General Store on the plaza in Old Town, San Diego. The store is an antique sort of place that seems authentic to the late 19th century and offers a complete line of Saint Jacques Chocolat. One item is a pairing kit or paper box with chocolates and samples of Caffe Calabria beans, which come in small three ounce sample bags.

Word to the wise: if you get a sample from Rust, de-gas the bags if they show signs of swelling. The swelling indicates that the coffee was packed immediately after roasting and without allowing the carbon dioxide to dissipate. The blown bags are not dangerous but it’s conceivable they may pop at the wrong moment, possibly when you’re presenting one to your mother-in-law or your boss. This this does nothing to detract from the coffee’s quality.

Saint Jacques also offers a White Chocolate Chai Tea and a “Haute” Chocolate cocoa powder. These come in small, rectangular tins; the chocolate comes with a tiny whisk to stir the milk or water boiled for the up to eight demitasses one can expect to brew from each tin.

We tried the chocolate with both milk and water and, purists that we are, prefer to make it with water. You may prefer milk. That’s OK, since it works either way. The water brew did justice to some fine sesame seed biscotti and the after effect of this pairing would have been worth much more than we paid to experience it. The White Chai was engaging and we would urge users to add steamed milk to the brew.

Find them at or by calling (619) 820-6189.

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The Custom Mary: An Irregular Jesus For Modern Times

Posted on 28 January 2012 by John Rippo

One of the intriguing entries to the San Diego Black Film Festival is Matt Dunnerstick’s The Custom Mary, a story about (re) birth, redemption, life in L.A. and the Second Coming…or more accurately, the First Cloning of Jesus.

The story centers around Mary, a young and naive Latina who frequents a church run by some very sleazy White Boys double dipped in ersatz blood of the lamb and eager to hawk their apocalyptic message to whomever they can catch. One of them is a lineal descendant of The Professor from Gilligan’s Island; a stunted introvert and mad scientist with a home made technique for DNA extraction and manipulation. Seems that the sectarians have discovered another Shroud of Turin with Christ’s DNA still attached. This speeds them along on a plot to clone Jesus, use Him as homeboy to the Cause and rule the world…or what’s left of it after Armageddon.  Mary is the neo-virgin drafted to receive the none too immaculate conception of DNA administered by the scientist, surrounded by a chorus of charlatans. What verges on a scene from Hitchcock’s cutting room floor is saved by Alicia Sixtos’ utter mastery of her role as Mary. She is as sweet and dumb as they come, but with a requisite heart of gold that makes her believable as, well, the Mother of God…or something.

Of course Mary wouldn’t be complete without Joseph who 2000 years later and half a planet away from Bethlehem, is an African American mechanic with a fine talent for customizing low riders. He doesn’t even want cars to look alike, let alone people and has no truck for cloning the Son of God either. But he stands by his woman because he loves her through thick and thin and some really bizarre costume choices. James Jolly handles his role with depth and finesse and one never catches him acting, even when he grapples with the absurdity of it all while bathing baby and waiting for Mary to struggle with her inner demons.

Inner demons there are in plenty, too. When Jesus is born Black—and mute (!) He’s immediately cast out by the bad guy preachers, who turn Mary into Mary Magdalene and quickly recruit other naive Stepford moms willing to bear the holy offspring.  Suddenly, it isn’t the Second Coming anymore, but a whole block party; a flock of Sons of God right in the middle of East L.A. . Raymond Chandler -or Soupy Sales–couldn’t have done it better.

The Custom Mary holds together well in spite of some gritty camera work here and there; bits and pieces of animation and pseudo ecclesiastical trappings appear with strange meaning almost as if Dunnerstick is recalling apparitions of Angels. One of those angels not only leads Mary out of the desert where she’s gone in search of a miracle, but offers a well-formed commentary on the nature of things made by the Deity and how not to confuse them with mere hydrocarbon. Her comments are a lot more on point than anything out of Leviticus and remain as timeless as the desert—and the ’63 Chevy Impala—itself.

While there’s something to offend all kinds of Christians in The Custom Mary, the film leaves the viewer with worthy questions of its own; who owns religion, anyway, and what is faith made of? The faithful in The Custom Mary are made to pay for their credence and overcome the villains with truth mixed with just enough stretch to give it the kind of power it needs to get people motivated. Truth stretched enough to motivate people has been keeping churches filled and vision narrowed for some 2000 years and The Custom Mary is a welcome expanding of vision and a modern parable worthy of your time.

81 minutes. USA 2011.



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Riding the Revolution: Populism, once old, may be new again

Posted on 29 November 2011 by John Rippo

by James Call

THE INSURGENCY—A sudden army was camped in Cambridge in April of 1775. A large, unrecruited army. An amateur army. An army without a commander. Farmers and mechanics were getting ready to attack trained, battle tested British troops occupying Boston. Why were these men there, ready to lay down their lives on a such a hazardous mission? How did this army come together? As basic as these questions seem to the story of the American Revolution, the surprising answers are not part of the usual narrative. Calling this army “militia,” as is often done, glosses over a much more compelling story of its creation. The cause they were committed to fighting and dying for had very little to do with taxes.
The most familiar history of the Revolution includes a nearly straight line of leadership, starting with James Otis and Samuel Adams orchestrating the American response to the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townsend Acts; to John Hancock and John Adams and a growing band of revolutionaries organizing resistance and inventing a government to replace British rule; culminating with an American army under Washington in the field fighting for independence. In reality, that line of leadership is not so straight. The most singular event of the Revolution, indeed, the real beginning of the Revolution, months before Lexington, was a spontaneous, leaderless, uprising of Americans in outrage. The Founders didn’t so much drive the Revolution as ride it. This event accomplished its revolutionary goal in a single summer. The nine years of war following was not England fighting to hold on to its colonies. It was England fighting to win them back.

Trouble had been brewing for some time. The French and Indian War ending in 1763 had left England with a huge war debt. The war had been enormously expensive for the British. And it was a continuing expense. A much larger military presence was being maintained in the colonies after the war than before. There were those in Parliament who, fishing around for ideas to reduce the debt, decided that Americans, the war having been conducted for their security and benefit, should pay their fair share. Of course the primary reason for the war was that Great Britain was guarding its own colonial interests by protecting its western American frontier against French encroachment. Little attention was paid to the high cost of the war already born by Americans in money and blood. Local colonial assemblies had raised taxes for the war effort and many Americans had died fighting along side British soldiers. Nonetheless, Parliament passed the Sugar Act of 1764 and then a year later the Stamp Act of 1765. While the Sugar Act was a trade regulatory duty, the Stamp Act was a tax laid directly on British citizens in the colonies—the first time Parliament had ever done so.

The grumbling started immediately over the Sugar Act. However, it mostly affected Americans producing rum. Smuggling and bribes greatly reduced its impact. The hue and cry over the Stamp Act was much broader. The American leadership that was to prosecute the war for independence a decade later did begin to emerge during this period. However, much of the response to these hated laws was grass roots. It may have been left to leaders to articulate opposition in newspapers and pamphlets and letters to Parliament, but much action was taken in communities thru-out the colonies. Committees formed at the local level to discuss these laws and inform the populace. Some of these committees began to loosely style themselves The Sons of Liberty and take greater and more robust political action. As a result, a line in the sand was deeply etched — No Taxation Without Representation! Americans, as they were to prove over and over again, would not allow that line to be crossed.

They reasoned that if a member of Parliament from Yorkshire or Kent supports an unfair law or an unreasonable tax, the people of Yorkshire or Kent may vote him out. But if those same MPs legislate for Bostonians who have no way to inflict a consequence for an unreasonable law, then nothing restrains the legislator but his own sense of fair play. And a politician’s sense of fair play was trusted as little in 1765 as it is now. If a penny tax, why not sixpence? If a tax on documents, why not bread too? The British in England did not have to suffer laws enacted by legislators unbeholden to a local electorate. Did the colonists suddenly no longer have the same rights as people back home? Were Americans, who had suffered privation to tame a wild land for the benefit of Great Britain, no longer to be British citizens?
The Stamp Act required that all newspapers and pamphlets, all legal documents, and for good measure, all playing cards be affixed with the requisite stamp. It is curious that the British would choose for their first vehicle to directly tax Americans, an act that mostly targeted lawyers, newspaper men, and college students. One could hardly coalesce a disparate group more likely to foment opposition and take effective action. It is a special example of the arrogance and ignorance that characterized British policy at every stage of the conflict and which ended with the loss of their American colonies.

Opposition to the Stamp Act was swift and occurred at all levels of society. Various of the colonies individually passed in their assemblies resolves against the acts. Committees of Correspondence were established in the various colonies to keep each other up to date on opposition activities within each colony. With representatives from most of the colonies attending, a “Stamp Act Congress” was formed which also issued a statement against the Act. Thus the law united not only commoners and patricians, but also encouraged an unprecedented level of cooperation between colonies more normally prone to competition with each other. On the ground protests and riots occurred almost spontaneously. The Sons of Liberty took it as their special task to prevent the stamp agents from performing their function. They often did this violently, with beatings, tar and feathers, and house burnings. This level of response from common people not only shocked the British, but it also shocked and frightened American leaders.

In the event, it was not so much the letters sent by colonial leaders to king and Parliament that caused the repeal of the Stamp Act. It wasn’t even the protests both in the colonies and in England. More to the point was the fact that this troublesome law was not fulfilling its goal. The Sons of Liberty and other disorganized mobs had been so effective in intimidating the stamp agents that virtually no tax was being collected. The law had simply been made null and void by The People. Less than a year after its enactment the Stamp Act was repealed by Parliament in February 1766.
Americans were jubilant. They had won their point and preserved British liberty in America. They had made the British Government back down. Many members of Parliament however chafed at this upstart rebuke of their legislative power. Arrogantly insisting on their perceived prerogatives, they hatched their next plan to tax Americans.

When they repealed the Stamp Act, Parliament passed at the same time the Declaratory Act which in essence said that no precedence had been set by the repeal and that Parliament retained the right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” The very next year with an abundance of hubris and shortsightedness they began to pass a series of laws collectively known as The Townshend Acts to raise revenue from the colonies, strengthen collection methods, and in general tighten control over the Americans. Each of the acts raised various objections. Each act progressively deepened resentment in the colonies. Troop levels were raised in New York and Boston increasing friction between citizen and soldier. This friction eventually erupted in violence in 1770 with the Boston Massacre which heightened anger on both sides.

Two incredible strains of thought seem to have characterize British thinking, at least in Parliament. One was that they thought they could fool Americans into paying a tax. The other was that greater repression was the best way to deal with growing American unrest — not noticing that harsher laws only provoked increased resistence. However much resentment was caused by all of the Townshend Acts, once again the biggest sticking point was taxation. It was felt in Parliament, erroneously, that while Americans objected to a direct tax, they would not object to an indirect tax. So import duties were placed on several essential items that by law Americans could only import from Great Britain. Not fooled, the American response was evasion, boycott, and protest. Not only was tax revenue once again not being raised, merchants and whigs in England were clamoring for repeal…again. Unchastened and angry at being backed into a corner…again, Parliament nonetheless repealed most of the Townshend Acts and lifted the import duties—all but one.
If it had been the plan to drive the colonies to separation from the mother country, it’s hard to imagine a plan more calculated to that end than the course of actions the British took starting in 1764. Yet, like a bull in a china shop, on they charged. As they tried to figure their way out of the Townshend mess a circumstance occurred that offered a way to kill two birds with one stone. The British East India Company, the largest corporation in England, had a problem. They had a glut of tea. They were having a hard time selling it against cheaper Dutch tea. But being the large company that they were, and as large companies often do, they had plenty of say-so over government policy. Many MPs were heavily invested in the Company. Indeed, many had themselves seen India service with the Company. So the plan was this: remove import duties on the tea by allowing the Company to deliver directly to the colonies without importation to England. That would make it cheaper and more competitive against Dutch tea. Then retain from the Townshend Acts the duty on tea going to America and send over a large shipment. Because of the reduced price the tea would still be cheaper with the tax than previous shipments had been without it. How could Americans object to that? The tea would even be cheaper than smuggled Dutch tea. The Company would sell a lot of tea, and a precedence for taxing Americans would be established. Win win. How clever!

Well, far less than clever as it turned out. The plan completely misunderstood the attitude in America. When a large shipment of tea arrived in Boston on 3 ships American leaders discussed schemes to prevent tea brokers, some of whom were loyalists, from purchasing the tea and paying the duty. The general plan was to try to get the shipment sent back to England. However, The Sons of Liberty effectively made the negotiations moot. They rowed out and boarded the ships, smashed the crates and dumped the tea into the harbor. It was a lot of tea. 300 tons. It changed the color of the bay. Tea washed up along the shoreline for several miles. It was the most expensive act of collective lawlessness the Americans had yet committed. When news of the action reached England, British East India Company executives were livid. The loss of the tea hurt. It put a serious crimp in the Company’s bottom line. Boston must pay! It was not difficult for the Company to lobby Parliament to pass a series of punitive measures aimed at Boston and the Massachusetts Bay Colony to punish them for the destruction of the tea and to make them pay for it.

It wasn’t just Company advocates in Parliament who rushed to support a law to make Boston pay for the tea. American sympathizers in England and even many patriot American leaders thought The Sons of Liberty had gone too far. This lack of general support amongst sympathizers in England and the vehemence of the opposition led to a quick passage of the draconian set of laws called The Coercive Acts that Americans came to refer to as “The Intolerable Acts.” These laws went much farther than merely to make Boston pay for the tea. Two acts in particular riled Americans. The Boston Port Act closed the Port of Boston until the tea had been paid for and “order restored.” The Massachusetts Government Act dismantled local government in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

To back up these tough new measures a large force of troops was sent to Boston and a military man, General Thomas Gage, was appointed governor. When he arrived to take his post on May 31, 1774 Gage brought with him the Boston Port Act which took effect June 1st. The Massachusetts Government Act took effect a month later. It was a one, two punch. If many Americans had been angry and determined over taxation without representation, the escalation of feeling in reaction to the news of the Port Act was seismic. It aroused the countryside in outrage. Gage had arrived with 3000 soldiers to enforce the closing of Boston Harbor. In addition to idling Boston shipping, merchants were denied import trade, sailors, warehouse men, mechanics and everyone employed by any aspect of shipping suddenly had no work. A significant percentage of the population in this busy seaport town lost their jobs. Newspapers thru-out the colonies, not only Massachusetts, suddenly exploded with an angry righteousness that did not exist before. Wounded exclamations accused Parliament of “rapine and cruelty,” and of subjecting Americans to “slavery.” Vows to defend liberty with a “glorious death” if need be, suddenly shot thru the colonies with previously unheard vehemence.

It is the hugest irony that the very act that the British thought would bring the colonies to heel, instead infuriated Americans to such a degree that they suddenly became united against British rule in a way unthinkable just a couple of months before. Especially when Parliament dropped the other shoe—delivered the second punch—and dismantled Massachusetts colonial government. The divorce was complete. The Massachusetts Government Act essentially replaced all elective office in the colony with representatives appointed by the crown or the governor. The Colonial Assembly was disbanded and the activities of town counsels severely restricted. In their place was established the office of mandamus councillor. The holders of this appointive office were to rule local districts virtually by decree.

But that’s not the way it went down. Instead, Americans in Massachusetts, turning the tables, dismantled British rule. Completely. None of the mandamus councillors were permitted to be seated for long. They were very quickly run out of their jurisdictions. Tar and feathers once again employed, as were house burnings. Those councillors still in Boston stayed there. They would not have been safe anywhere else. Not only were mandamus councillors denied their mandate, existing judges and sheriffs were also sent packing. American officers in local militias resigned their commissions under British authority. The militias then began to act under their own authority. Locally collected tax monies were also kept from representatives of the government. Except in Boston where the army was, British rule in Massachusetts evaporated like a morning mist. Further, news of the occupation spread quickly thru-out the other colonies in outraged sympathy. Several months before Lexington and fully 2 years before the Declaration of Independence Great Britain lost control of her American colonies.

Examination of American rhetoric before and after the Coercive Acts makes clear that taxation was not the issue that so inflamed the countryside. It was what the British thought of as a “little show of force,” the occupation of Boston. Of course, it is a mistake that super powers frequently make—military might is the deciding factor in every contest. The reality is that in the face of a determined insurgency mere military might often doesn’t count for much in deciding the final outcome. Nonetheless, with unwarranted confidence, the government blundered on. This colossal hubris was not unanimous in Parliament. A prominent member, Edmund Burke, amongst others, argued eloquently against The Coercive Acts. To no avail.

The variety of the American response points to the leaderless spontaneity of the reaction. One newspaper in Massachusetts, The Essex Gazette, published in its pages the vow signed by 100 men “united in the firmest bonds” to oppose, “every civil officer now in commission in this province, and acting in conformity to the late act of Parliament.” It further stated, “If any of said officers shall accept a commission under the present plan of arbitrary government, or in any way or manner whatsoever, assist the governor or administration in the assault now making on our rights and liberties, we will consider them as having forfeited their commissions and yield them no obedience.” The effective date of this vow was July 1, 1774, the same effective date as The Massachusetts Government Act. The Essex Gazette also reported early in July, “The News-Papers from all Quarters, in every British American Colony, so far as we have yet received Intelligence, are chiefly filled with Accounts of Meetings and Resolutions of Towns and Counties, all to the same Purpose—complaining of Oppression, proposing a Congress, a Cessation of Intercourse with Great Britain, and a Contribution for the Relief of the Poor of Boston.” Letters and diaries, and other newspaper accounts from this time confirm the generality of this sentiment not only thru-out Massachusetts, but in all of the colonies. By September the beleaguered Governor Gage acknowledged in a letter to the home government that “Civil Government is near its end, the Courts of Justice expiring one after another.” No central authority had ordered the dismantling of the courts. This action was taken independently by community after community as they had done with the mandamus councillors.

The dismantling of government by loosely organized mobs made local leaders very nervous. The fear of anarchy and chaos was very real in their minds. As noted earlier in the Essex Gazette, among the individual resolves of the towns and counties were calls for the formation of a congress. By September The 1st Continental Congress had been formed and the members meeting in Philadelphia. Delegates were chosen by the colonial legislatures of 12 of the 13 colonies. Whether or not these legislatures had yet been disbanded, calling for this congress was an extralegal act. That this action was taken so quickly and so universally may indicate the nervousness of colonial leaders observing mob action.
While the 1st Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia a remarkable occurrence helped push developments. It has come down to us as the “Powder Alarm.” In response to the collapse of British authority in the colony outside Boston, Gage decided that gunpowder, shot, and armaments stored in various spots around the colony should be brought to Boston to be put more firmly under his control. The first such mission was mounted by 260 soldiers on September 1st to a magazine just outside nearby Charles Town. The powder and armaments were successfully removed to Boston. The troop movements however seemed to have sparked a rumor that Boston was being razed by bombardment and its citizens slaughtered. This was entirely untrue but that did not stop the response that followed.

As the rumor of the destruction of Boston spread from town to town, men in these communities instantly flew into action. Whether on their own or with the local militia, armed men from Massachusetts and Connecticut marched converging on Cambridge just outside Boston where they found out that the alarm had been false. Nonetheless, the response from both sides to this gathering was profound. Estimates of the numbers of men on the march ranged between 15,000 to as much as 100,000. Ezra Stiles, an educator soon to be president of Yale College, investigated the alarm and its causes and put the number around 30,000. In any case these numbers vastly outstripped British troop strength in Boston of under 4,000. Greatly alarmed Gage wrote immediately to England asking for reinforcements. “if you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty; if one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end,” a request which subjected Gage to much ridicule back home. (They sent him 400 marines.) Plans to gather munitions from other locations were cancelled. Another such expedition was not mounted until 7 months later — the fateful one to Concord in April of ’75. Delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, first alarmed at the rumor, then relieved that it was false, were surprised that such a large, leaderless army had so spontaneously gathered in response to it. It presented them with options and responsibilities that they had not had when they originally had arrived in Philadelphia.

The Congress now had some teeth. That so many armed men would be in the field at a moment’s notice, however untrained, was something the British would have to consider in its responses to the extralegal Continental Congress. Congress could make its demands with much more authority. The other side, however, was that the demands of Congress had better have some bite, or a people who had already effectively dismantled British government thru-out the colonies would not recognize the Congress as truly representing their interests. Congress did indeed, however, step up to the plate.

Least significantly, Congress sent a letter to Parliament demanding a repeal of the Coercive Acts. More importantly they planned a boycott of British trade goods unless and until the repeal of the hated acts. But far more importantly, they authorized “The Association” to enforce the boycott. The Articles of Association described in detail what was to be on the non-importation list. More vague, tho, was a description of how the boycott was to be enforced. It was to be loosely based on the committees already in place; committees of correspondence, committees of safety, committees of observation. Congress described that a committee selected by those eligible to vote for the legislature be put in place in each community to watch for any persons who maybe breaking the boycott. The committee was to encourage transgressors to come into compliance by shaming them—publishing their names in the newspaper and by ostracizing them from “fellowship” within the community. Beyond that, what other forms enforcement would take would be left up to each community. It was left up to the Association in each locality to identify the ideologically impure and take corrective measures. A “rough justice” did take place. Members did terrorize perceived loyalists into flight or conversion —the ever present tar and feathers always at the ready. Some communities were rougher than others. What was plain however was who was in political control of the countryside. Overwhelmingly, it was the insurgents. Loyalists were forced to shut up or leave. With very few exceptions, the only safe places for Loyalists were Boston and New York. By legitimizing the committee activities already in place Congress demonstrated its solidarity with The People. And for their part The People were both empowered and to some degree restrained by the mandate provided to them by a central intercolonial authority. A nascent “United States” had been formed in September 1774. The Association represented insurgent law before the Articles of Confederation.

The Congress did one more very important thing. In Suffolk County, Pennsylvania a set of resolves were written up. This document provided “that no obedience is due from this Province to either or any part of the Acts above mentioned, but that they be rejected as the attempts of a wicked Administration to enslave America.” This sentiment, radical then as it would be now, that The People may decide whether or not to obey a law, is one repeated in the Declaration of Independence, and later again, opposing the authority of the US government, in the Kentucky Resolution (both written by Thomas Jefferson). Congress adopted The Suffolk Resolves seemingly as an answer to The Declaratory Act. To paraphrase, Parliament may propose, but The People dispose.

When the Congress adjourned on October 26 they agreed to reconvene in May 1775 if the Coercive Acts had not been repealed. Rule by committee and The Association continued thru this period. The militias and their leaders began to plan for engagement with the British Army. Strategies were discussed and training mounted but even this effort was pretty ad hoc. Nonetheless, on April 19, 1775 when 700 British troops marched out to seize munitions in Concord and arrest John Hancock and John Adams, the Americans now had advance intelligence and were already mobilized before they got there. Before the Powder Alarm the British had been able to accomplish their mission and get back to Boston without incident. The enormous American force that had come together afterwards had done so because of completely erroneous intelligence. Americans were now more coordinated and ready. Munitions in Concord had mostly been moved to safety, as had Hancock and Adams. Even tho the British drew first blood at Lexington, the march back to Boston was a hellish free fire gauntlet that resulted in many more casualties for the British than for the Americans. Nearly every able bodied patriot in the vicinity, whether under command or not, had descended upon the retreating British to join in the turkey shoot. And the Americans still had no central command.

Once again, as they had at the rumored destruction of Boston, a large American body of men rushed to Cambridge as news spread with amazing speed of bloodshed at Lexington. A new level of outrage inflamed the countryside, engaging fence-sitters and former moderates along with newly enraged patriots. Pouring into Cambridge were militias under their local commands, men not part of any militia, and wild, nearly ungovernable frontiersmen. In the meantime, the 2nd Continental Congress came together on May 10 as per their agreement the previous October. They immediately began to function as an American national executive and legislative body. They hadn’t planned and started the war. They inherited it. The populace was literally “up in arms.” Observing the daily growing number of insurgents near Boston with some alarm, the Congress chose Washington to lead them, calling him, somewhat euphemistically, Commander-in-Chief of the “Army.”

Before Washington could get there to take charge, this sprawling mob decided to mount an attack on Boston on their own. Under the loose leadership of a Connecticut militia general, Israel Putnam, and some other militia officers they accomplished a rather remarkable military feat against trained British troops. Stealthily, under cover of darkness, 1200 Americans dug in on Breed’s hill overlooking Boston. The British awoke to Americans looking down on them from fortified positions within firing range. Reacting to this untenable situation the British attacked. They charged up the hill twice and twice fell back against withering American musket and rifle fire, and huge losses. On the third charge they were able to drive the Americans, low on ammo now, off of Breed’s Hill and nearby Bunker Hill. The patriots took most of their casualties in the disorderly and inexpert retreat. The British “won” but it was a win that had General Gage reeling. They had lost nearly a thousand killed and wounded—nearly a third of the entire occupation army. Against farmers. He was stunned. As were officials in England. Discounting American determination, commitment, and resourcefulness, many blamed Gage with incompetence. He was soon replaced.

As Washington took control of the “army” and Congress took control of the war, the Revolution became incrementally less populist. But it was clearly The People that had taken them to that point. It was The People who had dismantled British authority. It was The People who had stood up to British military aggression and started the war. Many founders were shoulder to shoulder with The People. But many were more timid. Reconciliation was a theme that continued even after Lexington. The 2nd Continental Congress sent The Olive Branch petition for peace. It was ignored by the British. It probably would have been ignored by American patriots too. But some founders, like Patrick Henry, stood with The People from the beginning.

In March ’75, several weeks before Lexington, Virginia delegates were meeting to discuss their positions in anticipation of the Congress in May. A major topic was whether or not to declare for independence. Most were leaning against. That’s when Patrick Henry stood up and gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. He began softly, in a low voice, then gradually rising in pitch and emotion like a fire and brimstone preacher. Near his conclusion he said in exasperation, “Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace, Peace’—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun!” [Remember, this is weeks before the first shots in Lexington.] “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field!” [keeping the British bottled up in Boston] “Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet,” [raising his hands over his head, wrists together in mock bondage] “as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” [raising his voice to a shout] “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, [dramatically breaking apart his hands but leaving one aloft as if clasping a dagger] “GIVE ME LIBERTY” [then plunging the imaginary dagger down into his heart] “OR GIVE ME DEATH!”

The effect on the delegates in the room and on people outside listening at the windows was electric. The story goes that one old man standing outside cried, “When I die let me be buried on this spot!” The delegates were moved too. They took a vote to declare for independence at the coming Congress. It now passed. This speech so spoke for The People that it became a battle cry of the coming war. The People were not moved to lay down their lives by intellectual arguments over taxation. Americans were incensed over the unfairness of punishing an entire colony for the actions of a few people. They were outraged at the dismantling of representative government. The language and emotionality of Henry’s speech caught the mood of The People pitch perfect.

The fascinating details of this too little told tale, putting The People back at the forefront of their Revolution, may be seen in T. H. Breen’s excellent book, American Insurgents, American Patriots.

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A Century of Flight at North Island Marks Another Kind of Commemoration: How Coronado’s Earliest Aviators Paid Their Towing Charges

Posted on 17 February 2011 by John Rippo

Contemporary postcard of a Curtiss biplane over North Island, 1911.

“Here comes the king of the fools again,” muttered Agostino Zolezzi, an Italian fisherman who, like the rest of his kind, struggled to make a living fishing in the waters around San Diego. Zolezzi watched as yet another hated airplane went silent and fluttered down onto the water near his boat; its engine dead, its pilot waving frantically for a tow and its wings covered with salt water thrown up from its pontoon.
Zolezzi was used to the drill; for months these airborne annoyances had disrupted fishing in the early mornings when the tuna men hunted for anchovies and sardines in the bay to use as bait for the tuna that paid them their hard won living from the sea. The first time it happened, the shrewd Italian thought to claim salvage rights on the helpless plane and make some fast money merely by hooking his line to the plane’s nose, according to maritime law. But after looking at the clumsy frame of bamboo and wire with its wings patched together without even the skills of an apprentice sailmaker in evidence and an engine that obviously couldn’t run right, he’d given up the idea. As for flying, to him it was a fool’s way to die.  Zolezzi took his life in hands every day on the sea in a one-man boat and his occupation was dangerous enough. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to chance death in a flimsy boxkite over the ocean.  But it wouldn’t be right to ignore a vessel in distress. So he hooked a line to the nose of the plane, took the pilot on board and headed for the tide flats at North Island.
Though the aviators were usually good for a fist full of money whenever they got towed back and the fishermen welcomed whatever they could get, Zolezzi had more than his share of interference in his work from them. When the planes crossed over a school of fish, their shadows would spook them and make the school dive away from the fishermen’s nets. Sometimes the noise of the plane’s motor would do the same if the plane was low enough and if a plane alighted in a good fishing area, the fish wouldn’t show for hours afterward. This meant a loss of income for Zolezzi and his fellow fishermen and since more planes seemed to be around to suffer from engine trouble and hurried forced landings this meant the problem needed to be addressed. Zolezzi saw to it that it was.
The pilot was a skinny, tough fellow with a mustache and an attitude. He obviously didn’t think much of the fishing boat carrying him back and made the mistake of smirking at the single cylinder Sulzer engine that powered it. Zolezzi recalled that he said it was “primitive”. “My engine runs fine,” Zolezzi pointed out. “Yours has many cylinders and none of them work? How unfortunate; you paid too much .” Not the kind of man to stop when he had an opening, Zolezzi then gave the wet pilot an earful about how the flyers at North Island caused grief to the fishermen of San Diego Bay and he ended the sharp tirade by indicating that the pilot knew what he could do with his plane, engine and propeller, too. The pilot listened with gritted teeth. A long silence passed until the shore was reached.
When they got there, they saw some other boats catching a large school of bait fish not far from North Island. Zolezzi had missed the chance for them and would have to roam the bay to find enough bait before he could go out to sea for the tuna he needed. The pilot asked some questions about fish that Zolezzi answered. The parting was civil, and true to form, he got a few dollars for his trouble.
Days passed and fishing continued, and soon after, Zolezzi noticed a change in the air—literally. While roaming the bay for anchovies, a Curtiss biplane from North Island appeared, diving at his boat and wagging its wings. The pilot looked at the fisherman and pointed off to his right and buzzed away to his left—away from where he came.  Zolezzi sailed in the direction indicated and soon found a school of anchovies that he netted all for himself.

Such things would happen from time to time and it seemed that every pilot who had a forced landing on the water and needed a tow home got into the act. Since early airplane engines were notoriously unreliable, the number of fish-spotting pilots grew to nearly 100 percent of the airmen at North Island. Zolezzi remembered one man who had no end of bad luck—a haughty Japanese who stayed with his plane on the way back  and would never set foot on a mere fishing boat. Zolezzi got used to the note of the man’s engine and recalled years later that it always sounded “wet”. When he heard it, he knew that very soon the Japanese would make a sudden dive for the water with a dead engine and that he or one of the other fishermen would tow the arrogant, undersized Japanese back.  Maybe the pilot ran too rich a mixture and froze his carburetor or maybe he couldn’t master the throttle control.  Soon the Italian and Portuguese fishermen nicknamed him “Little Pelican” after his forced landing technique.

Anchovies are a silvery fish that reflect sun in distinctive patterns. Sardines are visible in schools; their swarms ripple the water and the waves catch the observer’s eye. Early airmen at North Island soon became accustomed to finding the schools of fish and some of them—but by no means all—would alert the fishermen to their presence. Early pilots had to read the water as part of their training. They could tell the wind direction at the surface from the ripples on the bay and perhaps gauge windspeed to safely land their frail planes. Some of  those men who troubled to learn how to see beneath the surface using the sun’s reflection and cloud shadows to find fish were officers in two navies. Later, the same technique was used to spot submarines in two world wars. The arrogant Japanese pilot eventually became the chief of Japanese naval aviation during WWII. He and others were the first to learn the secrets of sea flying over San Diego Bay a century ago, repaying men like my grandfather for bringing them home when their engines failed them. From a comic opera beginning came the means to take war beneath the seas from above the clouds. The centennial of this history is now being celebrated this month by the navy at North Island.

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My Pressi Espresso Goes Anywhere

Posted on 21 September 2010 by John Rippo

Talk about brilliant. The My Pressi is a portable espresso machine that can pull a credible shot—once you know how to finesse the machine—and can go anywhere.

Imagine finishing off a fine picnic lunch with a double, or perhaps offering a credible espresso to your friends at a concert. This little jewel can make it happen.

The My Pressi is merely a water reservoir that sits atop a group head. The coffee container in the group head can take pods, or a stainless steel basket that yields a single shot or a double. Power comes from a CO2 cartridge in the handle and the whole thing is brought to life by a trigger beneath the handle. It’s an elegant piece of design and fits the hand well, for the most part.

Right out of the box, we got our test model up and running in short order. The My Pressi comes with everything needed to do the job; especially welcome is the plastic tamp that fits the group head perfectly. We started with a Yrgacheffe that we ground a bit finer than we might have otherwise, and we quickly discovered that the My Pressi tends to like finer grinds than other, bigger machines might. The tamp is critical, too. A firm plunge finished by a smooth twist to the left paved the basket. It’s important to wipe away any loose grounds that ride atop the basket lip to ensure a good fit between the halves of the machine, and as we quickly found, the machine is much more dependable when using the double basket rather than the single. Though it has an optional pod case, we think of espresso pods the way we think of tea bags—strictly for amateurs.

Assemble the group head into the frame, place the water chamber on top–and pre-heat the chamber to 200 degrees. Pour out the water, replenish with water at boiling point and let go with the trigger. Don’t miss the cups. That’s all there is to it. After a few seconds, a gentle hiss is heard, followed by a trickle of thick, syrupy espresso into the cups. A 20 or 21 second shot yields a double or two singles with generous crema and fine form that taste like an espresso. We were impressed.

Like any micro maker, the My Pressi demands patience and finesse from its operator. For flawless function, it has to be kept thoroughly clean between shots since the slightest grounds left lurking anywhere will spoil the next shot or at least rob the cartridge of pressure. It comes with six CO2 cartridges and we think CO2 is the best to use, though nitrous oxide can be substituted, who wants espresso to taste like laughing gas? It has to be carefully manipulated so as not to damage the threads holding the halves of the brew head onto the frame or the rear screw onto the handle, and to do this properly for repeated use, the operator will need an oven mitt, since the metal water chamber stays hot once it gets that way. And you have to watch how tightly you twist the screw onto the handle, too. Too much pressure will needlessly strain the CO2 cartridge. Also, there is the trigger–the one serious weakness of this design. The trigger is not only permanently exposed, but its incredibly easy to touch it off when you don’t want to; this can be messy or at least embarrassing and once the brew head is loaded and the water reservoir is filled, you’re committed, since without a safety of any kind, you can’ t put the machine down without risk of discharge. Like handling a gun, it’s best to keep the trigger finger extended alongside the grip right up to the moment of discharging the shot.

We think the My Pressi needs some accessories to make it completely portable, it ought to have a kettle, heating element, grinder, stand and coffee bean bin and plenty of rags to clean it with. These things can be put together on one’s own of course, but a matched set of all the needed components in a carrying case would add to the machine’s cache even as it bumps up the price. Ours retails for around $170, give or take a few bucks and with reasonable care it should last a long time.

Overall, the My Pressi is perhaps the best of its class we’ve seen. It actually does what it is supposed to do and it does it with reasonable ease of effort, too. Once accessorized, it’s just the thing for home, home office or travel, and the price point is reasonable. Find it at

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CD: Enrique Domas–Fire with a Gypsy Heart & Flamenco Soul

Posted on 21 September 2010 by John Rippo

Enrique Domás isn’t really Spanish, but he should be. He’s an accomplished guitarist with an operatic background that brings a whole new take on ancient Flamenco music. For one, his lyrics are in English of all things, and this is a pleasant surprise, though on first listen it’s a bit disconcerting.
As if that weren’t enough, Domás comes from Phoenix, didn’t study the guitar until he was 28 and had no teachers of Flamenco nearby. So he taught himself about the art form and eventually wound up in Spain where he likely impressed the original originators on their home turf. His music certainly impressed us; his two CD offerings Flamenco Rose and My Gypsy Way are a homage to the art form itself and a masterful earful of talent in their own right. Domás captures all the passion, drama and movement inherent in the music and his guitar work is subtle, but elegant. His voice lilts in a manner usually unsung by English speakers and this brings a Spanish authenticity to his work that is completely captivating.
My Gypsy Way is a homage to the dead of 9/11 and resounds with songs of loss and lament. The influences of course are both Jewish and Arabic and the Lament (aka Toranto in the original Spanish) echoes the cries of all who lose those close to them suddenly and without warning. Flamenco is like that and the music is a thinking person’s Country; it pulls the heart strings but it doesn’t descend into maudlin self abnegation. One of few songs sung in Spanish, No Me Dejes (Don’t Leave Me) says the same message every song of its kind always does, but it does it with dignity. Same with Adiós Cáriño Adiós. The Carmina, another lament is simply a vocal triumph.
Domás spends much of his time these days calling coffeehouses everywhere, asking if they’d play his music. So far, the returns have been good, in widely scattered areas of the US. They should take off here, once he’s better known, as he should be.

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Exclusive Interview With the Late Howard Zinn

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

by Jason Holloway
Howard Zinn was asked about FBI involvement in counterculture activities that spanned more than a generation and affected his life and work as well as the times he lived in.
JH: Could you tell me what you know about Cointelpro?
Z: Cointelpro was a program that was set up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Cointelpro stands for Counter Intelligence Program. I twas most active in the 1960’s in relation to the movements of that period. It was a secret program of course-so much of what the FBI does is secret. The program consisted of all sorts of activities; surveillance, wire tapping-but included also a lot of illegal activities. That is, wire tapping without a warrant, breaking into people’s homes or offices without a warrant. They sent anonymous letters to the members of political organizations to try and stir up animosity amongst different organizations and individuals. It was under the Cointelpro program that an anonymous letter was sent to Martin Luther King suggesting that he ought to get out of the way. There was a veiled suggestion that he ought to do away with himself. Cointelpro was in fact investigated by a Senate Committee.
JH: I have read the Church Committee Report. (A Senate investigation in 1975 into illegality of US intelligence gathering procedurs, headed by Sen. Frank Church, D-ID)–ed.) I found it to be very shocking. On of the things I found to be most shocking was that in the “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports” there is a memo from William C. Sullivan to Alan Belmont. William C. Sullivan was the Director of the Domestic Intelligence Division. The memo outlined a plan for a “new negro leader” to replace Martin Luther King when he’d been “neutralized” . Do you know if they ever implemented that plan?
Z:I don’t think so. I remember reading that, too. I never heard of that being implemented.
JH: Another shocking thing about the report is that it shows how the FBI manipulates the media. There are members of the media who are actually FBI agents and through them the FBI can plant whatever story they want. Can you comment on that?
Z: This was a very troubling thing about the activities of the FBI and also the CIA. There were two kinds of operations they had. There was one operation where they planted their own operatives inside the media with jobs that gave them the opportunity to plant stories as they wanted. The other was using existing reporters, who already had jobs as professional journalists, make contact with them and utilize them in the name of patriotism to plant stories that the FBI would consider useful. You know about the Church Committee Report which goes into great detail about their illegal activities. There was a special report on Martin Luther King. And they did a lot in connection with the Black Panthers. I think its known that the FBI colluded with the Chicago Police in the 1969 raid on the Chicago headquarters of the Black Panthers which resulted in the deaths of two of the leaders of the Black Panthers. It’s a very, very sordid story.
JH: I want to take a page from ancient history and apply it to today. Do you think the the FBI or the United States intelligence services are a contemporary version of the Roman Praetorian Guard?
Z: All police agencies that operate unscrupulously to violate people’s rights in the the service of emperor or the government have something in common. And I suppose that you could easily make that analogy. You can even make an analogy with the Gestapo. People are annoyed when you make any analogy between the US and Nazi Germany, but analogies are not intended to say that two situations are identical. Analogies are a way to say that certain features of one phenomenon are similar to the features of another phenomenon. The FBI intimidates people by calling them in for interrogation and the Gestapo calls people in and intimidates them by interrogating them. It’s fair to say then that some of their activities are analogous to one another.
JH: In the media we are often told that we are a free country. It is more often repeated that any other lie and since we have this FBI manipulation of media or even direct control sometimes, how “free” are we? Do we have a free press? How many freedoms of the Constitution actually exist?
Z: The question of how free the United States can’t be answered definitively yes or no; true of false, because it is a matter of degree. It is a matter of comparing ourselves to-what? If you compare the US to a totalitarian state where the press is totally controlled and there is no opportunity for any dissenting voice. Then by that standard the US is free. Although it is more reasonable to say it’s freer that a totalitarian state, but if you compare it to the amount of freedom in the American press to the kind of freedom that should exist in a Democratic society. That is, if you compare the US to a situation where there would be equal access to the news where the organs of public opinion are not controlled by a small number of people. By that standard the United States falls short. In the United States the major media is controlled by a small number of very powerful corporations. The corporate connections with major media are startling. It would be bad enough if ABC, CBS, and NBC were the major sources of news for the American people and they that they have very few other sources to go to, but when those three sources are themselves owned by financial and industrial corporations like Westinghouse, General Electric, Disney and Viacom, then we are in a situation where the major organs of public opinion are owned and controlled by the few powerful and rich entities. What we have in the United States is a kind of limited freedom. Limited in the sense that we can have community newspapers. We can have all sorts of alternative sources of information on a small scale because money determines what can be controlled in the country. Money determines how large a piece of the airwaves you can control. The amount of freedom we have, you might say, is proportionate to the amount of money we have. The question, “Do we have free speech?” is not a question of yes or no; the real question is, “How much free speech do we have?” It might be argued that everyone in the United states has free speech. But some people have an enormous amount of opportunities to speak freely to huge numbers of people and other people-the great majority of people-have very, very few opportunities to speak to more than a handful of people.
JH: At some point, does media control become mind control of the American people? If you reason on the facts given by the media and if corporate entities and capitalists control media, aren’t they then ultimately controlling the thoughts of the American people?
Z: Unquestionably. People make up their minds about what is going on in the world on the basis of the information that is fed to them. They aren’t born with that information. It is accumulated. Therefore, the people who can feed the information to them will control their thinking. We have an immediate example of it today where it seems that the majority of American people believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. In fact, they have not been found, but because the media are dominated by the voices of the Bush administration and because the media give the greatest opportunity to the voices of the government, we as a result have a public that is terribly misinformed and whose minds are full of falsehoods. This is a situation that suggests we don’t have a democratic society.
JH: Do you think this media control is a response to the left wing? For the most part we have a right-wing media that is constantly lying to the people. Telling them that the media has a left bias makes it hard to believe that right-wing entities that own and control media would have a left bias. How can we get to a day where people have more control over the distribution of wealth if we can’t wrestle the power of the media from these people’s hands?
Z: That is a profoundly important question. What you’re asking is how can we change the economic system that we have? In order to do away with the enormous disproportion in wealth and therefore disproportion in control. I think it will take a new great social movement in the United States-a citizen’s movement. It will take a movement in the say that we have had movements in the past which have had partial success in changing the control over people’s lives. The trade unions, when they were strong, had a partial success changing the way corporations control their lives. Black people in the South through their movement against racial segregation were able to change the ratio of power in the South and gain some degree of power for themselves. So, the task of changing of the concentration of wealth in the United States is much more formidable-more fundamental one-than winning the eight hour day or getting higher wages from Ford Motor Company or General Motors. A more difficult problem that getting the segregation laws eliminated from the southern states. It’s the most difficult problem that we have had in the history of the this country. It will take a movement of immense proportions; a movement that combines the power of the movements that we have seen already; the power of Black people, Latino people, of women; of newly invigorated labor movements and of those who people who are working to protect the environment. It will take an enormous coalition of people with all sorts of grievances against the system who will come together and demand changes. These changes are not going to come all at once. I don’t think that bringing about the change that I am talking about is a matter of a kind of revolutionary seizure of power. The classical idea of left-wing groups was that they would build up and that they would seize power from the capitalist class. I don’t think that it will happen in that kind of revolutionary moment. I think it will happen as the result of a series of struggles in which territory is won little by little. In which, for instance, the movement becomes strong enough to establish a really graduated income tax, which would very, very severely limit the fortunes that have been accumulated by the present tax system. If we reach a point where the social movement becomes strong enough to insist on a minimum annual income for every family, free health care for everybody, free higher education–in other words, one by one, the needs of the American people and the elements of of the American economic system will have to be transformed by a very powerful social movement. I think that that is the way to me-it seems is the way it can happen in the future.
JH: Do you think that since the US has invaded Iraq and has imposed hegemony over the world’s oil resources, is Marx’s prophecy that if we don not have some sort of socialist revolution or democratic control over the economic resources, that we’re going to come to the ruination of the two classes?
Z: Either there will be a change or the results will be disastrous for everybody-including the capitalist class. I think thatrquote s an analysis that makes sense. Of course, the problem is that the capitalist class itself is planting the seeds of its own demise by what it is doing. The American leaders by their actions are making it inevitable their own end because the fate of past empires is going to be the fate of the American Empire. Empires fall because they grasp too much. They go too far. They are driven to accumulate, accumulate, accumulate and expand, expand, expand and expand beyond their capacity to control things. Expand beyond the capacity of their economic resources to keep up with their ambitions. I believe the American invasion of Iraq and the so-called “War on Terrorism” are really the beginning of the end of the American Empire.
JH: On the Patriot Act; when you take another page from history, Rousseau had made this analysis; so did Hegel and Gibbon–that the Roman Empire really began when all of the powers of the Roman Senate were put in the hands of one man, the Emperor. Now that we see that we are having these military tribunals and black budget that the President controls–essentially, the powers of the purse and the judiciary have all become subsumed under the president. It looks like we’re becoming more like dictatorial Rome.
Z: There is no doubt about the concentration of power. The Congress has become impotent. The Supreme Court has become simply the tool of whoever conrtols the Executive Branch. Yes, the Executive Branch has taken an enormous amount of power and when you have a budget that’s over two trillion dollars, you are in a situation where the economy is more and more in the hands of government. The connections between Corporate Power and Political Power have become overwhelmingly close.
JH: Hasn’t that been true since at least World War II? There was a document that was published by the United States Senate named “Elimination of German Resources for War” . In that document, they talk about the “Unofficial Government” of Germany which was mainly the Thyssen and Krupp families. Who would you say on the American side of things are the prime families that are really pulling the strings behind scenes; really controlling the government?
Z: In the case of Germany, you can concentrate on the Thyssen and Krupp families. In the United States, I don’t know if you can identify one, two or three families. Back in the 1930’s there was an American social analyst named Ferdinand Lundberg who wrote a book called America’s Sixty Families. He traced power and wealth of the United States to the holdings of sixty families. Since the 1930’s those families have certainly diminished down to I don’t know how many families: ten, fifteen, five. I don’ t know how many there are and I don’t know if I could identify them but there is no doubt about the increasing concentration of wealth power.
JH: Aren’t these people also above the law? I remember reading also that I.G. Farben had merged with Standard Oil in the 1930’s and that Standard Oil shared the patents for synthetic oil and rubber with I.G. Farben. And this made World War II last longer. And these people were never brought to justice.
Z: The ties between American companies and German companies has been documented a number of times. There is all this information now. In fact, Kevin Philips in his new book talks about the Bush family and their connections to Nazi business firms. His book might be worth looking at.
JH: Getting back to the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King-in 1968, he was going to lead a Poor People’s Campaign to Washington. He was inspired by the Bonus March. So there was going to be poor people camping out in the shadow of Capitol Hill, but he was assassinated before that could happen. What is your opinion about the assassinations of the 1960’s in general and in particular about Martin Luther King’s?
Z: I know that there are all sorts of theories about the government conspiring to kill Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, possibly John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. I have been very dubious about these theories. Although there is no doubt that it was to the benefit of the government to get rid of Malcolm X and it was to the benefit of the right wing forces in society to get rid of Martin Luther King. Especially at that point, when King was turning the Civil Rights movement into an Economic Justice Movement. He recognized that the real problem now was the capitalist system and he put it that bluntly when he talked to his staff. He said that capitalism and militarism are twin evils. So, yes, theoretically it would have been logical for the government and for the corporate power in this country to see Martin Luther King as the greatest threat to their continued holding of power. I say theoretically; What actually happened in the assassination, and who actually is responsible for it; I have no idea.
JH: Do you think James Earl Ray was the shooter?
Z:I don’t know.
JH: In 1999, Coretta Scott King brought a civil court case against a man named Lloyd Jowers. She was represented by an Oxford Professor by name of William F. Pepper. I was wondering if you are aware of this work and what is your opinion of it?
Z: No, I remember that the King family questioned very much the official version of the assassination of King and that Coretta King and her children had very serious doubts about the official version. I don’t really know how strong the evidence is for their claim. I haven’t looked into it in detail enough to sort of give a strong opinion of it one way or another.
JH: I know that a man you have worked with; James Lawson, is a big believer that the government did participate in the assassination. He testified in the trial. The US Department of Justice under Janet Reno also conducted an investigation into the new developments in the King case brought about by William Pepper. The US Department of Justice on their website published a report critical of the complaint that the King family brought. In the report, there is talk of two members of King’s circle that the King family believe participated in the assassination. They are referred to as the SCLC minister and the Memphis minister. They are respectively, Jesse Jackson and Samuel “Billy” Kyles.
Z: I have never looked closely into that whole thing. I think I’m probably going to have to go at this point. If there is a final question, I would be happy to answer.
Here, the interview ended.—ed.

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CD Review: Run With It–Raw Power Blasts Against Sex Biases

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Danielle Lo Presti and the Masses just issued another in a long line of triumphs in the form of a new CD entitled Run With It. It’s complex, infinitely engaging and deftly subversive as well as timely. Human dignity and the struggle for it always is—and Run With It is all about these issues .
Run With It took four years to make and is a finely ground axe that takes a well-aimed swing at the imbalance of status of women—and others—in society. That well-aimed swing is delivered by Lo Presti’s Wall-of-Power vocals backed up on both flanks where needed. Mostly, it isn’t needed; Danielle Lo Presti’s voice can move clouds and shift tides on an off day, and Run With It is void of off days.
For all that power, there is delicacy and even mournfulness; title track Run With It is a tale of love fugitive on time’s slow treadmill. Percussion echoes the painful pounding of one’s heart as it leaps into the mouth at the final goodbye—the last time the now ex-lover will ever be seen. Strings sting along intermittently like the shrill goosebumps that sort of last glimpse forms on the back of your throat to poison anything that might struggle out. “But I’ve emptied all my boxes of tools trying to find one that will help me learn to live without you…”We’ve all been there, and Run With It will take you straight back there, damn it.
No More No Less is a song for our times; lilting strings and a haunting piano offsetting Lo Presti’s angelic voice telling a tale of blunt discrimination by those who live on hate, fear and a 52-percent majority vote in California that took away the right of gay people to marry. It’s a beautiful, tragic, haunting and grim melody; one hopes that someday No More No Less will become an historical artifact—a kind of gay Our Day Will Come. Even if it doesn’t, it will be no less powerful; the kind of music that will rally the good guys and shame the bad while becoming one of those tunes that stays in the brain for days—a persistent ear worm.
And then there’s Objectify; sexy siren voices luring the unsuspecting into a change of pace that reverses roles and serves cold vengeance to cold hearted thugs who treat women like ass instead of equals. Payback’s a bitch, boys, and they’re everywhere, layering tonal complexities alongside the anger.
Run With It is a multifaceted bit of genius that will let you enjoy it any way you want. It’s themes have something for everyone and its tunes are a captivating bit of seduction that you shouldn’t live without.

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Book Review: Death in the North Pacific

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Deadliest Sea: The untold story behind the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history by Kalee Thompson. William Morrow Press, Pub., 310 pp. Hardcover. $25.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-176629-9

Deadliest Sea makes your hands sweat when you read it—the true tale of the Alaska Ranger’s final voyage in 2008 describes an unsafe boat sent with untrained crewmen into bad weather and unimaginable cold to catch fish off the Alaskan coast for the boats’ Japanese owners. The inevitable sinking of the fishing boat due to worn mechanical systems and un-repaired earlier damage leads to a tale of an amazing Coast Guard rescue of the Alaska Ranger’s crew who had to swim away from their boat clad in insulating “Gumby” suits that may prolong their lives—and pain—while other men, technology and money work to save them.
The book is also the tale of a local man, Julio Morales, one of the Alaska Ranger’s crew, who endured as much as any of the crew did and who suffered the loss of a cousin who froze in the icy sea. Morales now works at a downtown gas station, coping with issues that follow the sinking that rob him of sleep and wondering at the differences between life and death. The book deals with these issues too, as well as the brutal economics of commercial fishing—likely the most dangerous job in the US—and the pressures that send men to sea in worn-out boats for an ever harder to find resource. Author Kalee Thompson’s fast paced narrative and elegant descriptive form of nuanced, staccato sentences drawn into long, detailed paragraphs, make the reader dig into the book from the first page as the tales of disaster and rescue come alive.
The real hero of the story is the US Coast Guard, whose ships and helicopter crews brave distance, lack of fuel and range and the elements in order to save the men of the Alaska Ranger. One soon comes to feel that the taxes to train and equip these people is money very well spent—they are the epitome of “can do” and skilled bravery in the face of grim odds anywhere they’re needed.
Beyond that, Deadliest Sea is an illustrator of the realities of fishing. Every delicate piece of nigiri sashimi; every can of tuna, every shrimp on the barbie comes at a cost unseen and unappreciated by most people. What’s left of our once-respected American fishing industry is now largely controlled by foreign interests that have little regard for the niceties of US law when it comes to safety at sea and sinkings like the Alaska Ranger’s are depressingly common. When they happen, the men lost pass out of sight and the underwriters pay up and life goes on; but the American taxpayer gets to subsidize the lifesaving system that keeps foreign owners’ crews alive to work another day—for them.
Deadliest Sea can be a thriller, a history or a wake up call to the lack of oversight of an important industry. However you want to read it, the book will keep you awake until the last page and leave you with a greater appreciation for the finer things in life, to boot.

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