Thursday, December 24, 2009

You just broke my heart, comrade

The Russian Hockey Federation announced its roster for the upcoming Olympic Games in Vancouver. Here's the 23-player team (I've placed the players in their most likely configuration, based on past pairings and the various comments of coaches):

Ovechkin - Fedorov - Semin
Kovalchuk - Malkin - Afinogenov
Zaripov - Datsyuk - Morozov
Kozlov - Zinovjev - Radulov

Markov - Nikulin
Tyutin - Gonchar
Volchenkov - Grebeshkov
Kalinin - Korneev


Now, before we get to the wailing and moaning (of which there'll be plenty), I'll post what would have been my team. Note, the roster's are largely similar; players I would have chosen who were not ultimately selected are bolded:

Ovechkin - Malkin - Semin
Kovalchuk - Zinovjev - Frolov
Zaripov - Datsyuk - Morozov
Saprykin - Tereschenko - Radulov

Markov - Nikulin
Tyutin - Gonchar
Volchenkov - Grebeshkov


The actual team isn't all that different than mine. The most significant players who will be the biggest part in determining success or failure are found on both teams (OV, Semin, Kovy, Dats, Morozov, Rads, Markov, Niku, Gonch, Tyuts, Volch, Nabby, Bryz). That said, here's why the team they chose is 1) wrong, and 2) could easily cost them gold:

1) 8 defensemen - This is probably the biggest mistake. Playing on the small ice, and with the availability of big minute dmen, e.g. Markov, Gonchar, Tyutin, Nikulin, Volchenkov, who should each be playing over 20 mins a game, it makes no sense to take 8 d. Playing the bottom pair only makes it harder for the rest of the group to get into the game, fee the flow, exert their will on the play. I recall Markov, and perhaps others, making such comments while playing reduced minutes with 8 defensemen in various national team tournaments. I think it's assured that every other nation, especially those realistically in the medal hunt (Can, Swe, Usa, Fin, Cze), will be taking only 7 dmen (playing 6 regularly with one as a injury replacement). NHL teams, who play on the same size ice as that of the Olympic Games, only dress 6 per game. There are no injury replacements during the tournament. If one Russian forward gets injured during the tournament, they will be playing w/o 4 full lines and will need to unnecessarily go to a forward double-shifting, or not playing two forwards, while having an overabundance of dmen. Is it worth it to have 8 mediocre min of Dmitri Kalinin at the risk of having your forward lines all messed up? Silly. Classic, stupid Russia. Can't imagine the good laugh Canadian coach Mike Babcock gets out of this.

2) Not taking Alexei Tereshchenko (aka playing Fedorov w/ OV and Semin). In 2008, the IIHF celebrated its 100th year anniversary. It held its annual world championship tournament in the Canada, the "birthplace of hockey," for the first time ever. Gorgeous Quebec City saw a beautiful gold medal game between Canada and Russia featuring star-studded lineups for both teams, despite that the tournament took place during the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs. Canada was attempting to win gold on home soil (something rarely if ever done at the WC's, and something Russia was unable to do the previous year) and Russia was attempting to win gold for the first time as independent from the old USSR. In one of the greatest hockey games in recent memory, featuring absolutely breakneck pace, up and down action, Canada took a 4-2 lead into the third period in front of a madly patriotic and hugely entertained crowd. Russia would improbably fight its way back with two 3rd period goals before winning it on a 4-on-3 pp goal in OT off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk. While people will surely remember that decisive goal (and even the tying goal off the same stick), people may not remember that it was Alexei Tereshchenko's opportunistic goal in the middle of the final frame, off a scrambly, broken rush, that got the comeback started. A defensively responsible center who's had success playing with both Radulov and Morozov, two locks at right wing on the team, he's a player that can be useful in a shut-down role and who can provide offense when needed. An important part of the last two gold-medal WC teams, he was, as much as Ovechkin and Semin and Kovalchuk and Nabby, a hero of that gem of a game in Quebec City. It's an absolute tragedy that he will not be going to Vancouver.

And part of the reason he won't be there is because 40-year old Sergei Fedorov will be. Fedorov played an important role as the center, and de facto baby-sitter, on the QC line with OV and Semin, Russia's most talented inseparable duo. One of the greatest players the sport has ever produced, Fedorov is still a skilled, supremely defensively capable and smart player; he was the conscience on the line with those deadly freelancers, he let them do the painting while he did most of the plumbing, and some of the retouching work. Great fit at the time. 20 mos. will have passed though, and Feds, god bless him, does not still have the wheels or the hands to keep up with probably the two most offensively talented players on the planet. He's currently playing 14 min a game for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL, and he's tied for second on the team in points, 7 points behind Stanislav Chistov. I love Fedorov as a 13th forward, a sort of player-coach, on the bench to tell the young players to stay the course, dump the puck in when necessary, not get frazzled by the Canadians' inevitable dirty play after the whistle, their forearms to the head after the puck's gone, etc. - and make no mistake, it is Canada who Russia who will be fighting for gold; Sweden will put together a great team, and they will be expertly coached, but it's Russia and Canada who are the creams of the crop. Fedorov's experience, calmness, and the respect he commands from Russia's younger players will all be valuable. But in a 13th forward role, not as the team's top center, trying to keep up with and get the puck to and from Ovechkin and Semin. Jesus, the thought of OV and Semin being held back or stifled offensively because they're forced to play with a player - a legend notwithstanding - born when Khrushchev was still alive and healthy, that's enough to give any sane Russian fan the screaming fantods.

3) Afinogenov over Frolov. Afinogenov has had a fairly successful season playing in a strictly scoring role, paired with great offensive players (Kovalchuk and Antropov) on a team that plays no defense whatsoever. I'm sure Russia's coaches Bykov and Zakharkin are familiar with Afinogenov's point totals, but I'm not sure there are as familiar with his many turnovers in his own end as he (attempts to) exit the zone (in his defense, it's largely because he's trying to get the puck to Kovalchuk who flies up the ice as soon as there's a hint that the puck is going the other way). I've seen most of Atlanta's games this season, and I like Afinogenov as a player, he's blindingly fast, he can do some things with the puck, he works hard all over the ice, but he makes risky plays, he's not a great finisher, and his ability to get the puck out of the zone when it really matters worries the hell out of me. I have no idea why Alexander Frolov has been so maligned in Los Angeles and it's an absolute shame if that has anything to do with why he didn't make the Olympic team. He played great in the WC in Berne, is great down low with the puck. Frolov has played with Handzus for three seasons on the Kings' shut down line, he's a warrior, makes smart plays with and without the puck, would be a great complement to make room for Kovalchuk, and has a nice finishing touch around the net. He was an absolute lock for the team before the season started, it's a huge mistake to not have him in Vancouver.

4) Viktor Kozlov over Oleg Saprykin. I know Kozlov's game very well. I watched him play almost every game as a Washington Capital over the last two seasons. Big, skilled, decent passer, great wrist shot, not all that fast, not physical at all, smart, soft-spoken, gets along with OV and Semin, has had basically zero playoff success, plays for the Bykov and Zakharkin's domestic team, Salavat Ufa. Kozlov made one of the key plays in the quarterfinal win against Canada in Turin in 2006, shaking loose behind the net and finding a cutting Ovechkin for the game's first and eventual game-winning goal. That said, Kozlov is a second-rate skilled player - he's currently seventh on his KHL team in points (!) - that brings nothing of what Russia lacks, forechecking tenacity, toughness, defensive commitment, penalty-killing ability. But these are the exact traits that Saprykin brings. Saprykin can't dangle the way Kozlov can, he can't pass as well, but he can get in on the forecheck, separate Canadian defenders from the puck, crash and bang, and open up room for the Russian dancers to dance. He's had a miserable year in the KHL, even being a healthy scratch at times before recently being traded, but he always lights it up when he puts on the national team sweater. He was a force in Berne, great on the PK, and had chemistry playing with Radulov. He played great in the recent Eurotour which was Bykov's last chance to evaluate players. Saprykin brings to the table qualities that are rare among their crop of forwards. On the big ice, I probably wouldn't take him, but in the faster and hitting-focused game of the small ice, Saprykin makes more sense than Kozlov.

Russia has a great team regardless. But so does Canada. So does Sweden. It's going to take a little bit of luck to win this thing regardless. One errant puck off the wrist of Ovechkin or Malkin will have a much greater impact than whether Kozlov or Afinogenov should be there. But every player and every decision has an opportunity to make the difference between gold and silver or shameful bronze. I'm hoping for the best, but I think some of the wrong decisions have been made.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Don't got much, throw away what you got

The NY Rangers, to nobody's surprise, declined to offer Nik Zherdev the one-year/3.9M contract awarded to him by an arbitrator over the weekend, making him a 24-year old Unrestricted Free Agent. Zherdev had a fairly strong start to the season playing on an offensively challenged, to say the least, Ranger team before Tom Renney was ultimately fired and replaced with John Tortorella, who could not be more opposite from Renney in terms of coaching strategy, style, and demeanor. Whereas Renney utilized a passive, defensive, everybody-skating-back-to-the puck system, Tortorella employs a far more aggressive, attacking, go-get-the-puck approach. He's also a world class bully and, from all appearances, a huge asshole. I think they are both pretty good NHL coaches.

Not surprisingly, Zherdev quickly fell out of favor with his new coach. Not surprising not because there were an obvious personality conflict, but rather because Zherdev is not an aggressive puck pursuer; he generally likes to hang back and let the puck and/or play come to him (which I'd argue is a a fairly sensible approach given his specific skill set and the size of the ice surface he grew up playing the game on). I don't think Zherdev is particularly lazy, I think this is just how he knows how to play. Long story short, Zherdev's ice time, linemates, and scoring decreased towards the end of the season before ultimately falling off a cliff in the postseason. No points in 7 playoff games probably sealed his fate in New York.

The Rangers probably qualified him knowing that he would receive in arbitration more than they were willing to pay him, and that they could try to trade him for a pick rather than not qualify him and lose him for nothing. It seems they were not able to get anything for him, and Zherdev is now free to sell his services on what's left of the open market. Now, I'm not a huge Zherdev fan or supporter by any means (he's certainly, for reasons that I expect are largely unfair, the black sheep of the Russian Federation), but given the context of the team he was on last season, and specifically its offensive shortcomings, Zherdev's production last year was impressive. Ranger fans and media have been quick to discount his offensive output. They love to call him "enigmatic," which is just hockey speak for "a Russian not named Alexander Ovechkin." But Zherdev was by far the most productive even-strength scorer for the Rangers last season. This was on a team that had three other forwards who made more money last season - and with a greater cap hit - than Zherdev would have received this season had the Rangers agreed to the arbitration award. In fact, the difference between Zherdev and the Rangers' second most productive even-strength scorer was the largest such difference on any team in the league. By miles.

Ranger fans can criticize Zherdev all they want and crucify him as he leaves town, but it's downright scary to think of just how offensively anemic that team would have been without him. It was a struggle for the Rangers to score goals last year, but I'm not sure how, short of a Bure-eque solo-performance from Gaborik, it's going to be any easier this year.

Note: there are some awesome names on that list. Depending on where you make the games played or EV TOI cutoff, the chart could be slightly different, but I wanted to get Stortini on there for obvious reasons so I used a GP cutoff of 41.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Esthetics don't equal success

Mercifully, it all comes to an end.

I don't think anyone expected that. Some of the signs were there, though:
  • I remember Dan Bylsma well from when he joined the LA Kings toward the end of Gretzky's career there. Gretzky, or more accurately his arrival to LA and its facsimile of a hockey team, changed my life irrevocably. He was my Dominique Wilkins replacement (which is not said with an iota of irony or rue). My DNA was filled with more hockey-receptors than the basketball- kind, so this had retardedly significant ramifications. I lived and died with the LA Kings for a few years, until it was mostly dying, and my once mighty idol - that spring of 93 was something though, eh - was schleppnig through whatever detritus a penny-foolish, pound-foolish management team threw against the wall and hoped stuck. Long story short, it got bad towards the end, with the Kings calling up career minor leaguer Danny Bylsma, a good penalty killer and hard worker, to fill one of the many holes in their lineup (John Slaney was one of the few kids they got right... and then promptly gave up on (though to be fair, several teams did the same, including the Caps eventually - beauty player though)), and I remeber one shift in particular when Gretzky broke in 2-on-1, a rare event at this point in his career, and threaded a pass between the skates of Bylsma (can you imagine what that poor bastard who had never scored 20 goals in professional hockey was thinking being in the NHfuckingL breaking in alone with Wayne fucking Gretzy), and Bylsma wiffed ingloriously. And fell down in the process. Another chance wasted in a season of wasted chances and poor results. I remember cursing Bylsma at the time - how could he fuck up a pass from my Gretz - but shortly thereafter feeling bad for him, knowing the whole time it wasn't really his fault and that the team, and Gretz to a certain extent, sucked.
  • I didn't know what to think when Bylsma got the job in Pittsburgh. I thought Therien was a great coach, for sure, but one who had probably seen his shelf-life expire at that point with that team (that happens frequently with miserable bastards, French-Canadians even sooner I think). But oh my what a job he's done. I don't think the Penguins personnel is any better - no matter how you consider it - than the Capitals (in fact, I think it's worse). But they certainly are a better team - and play better as one, if that's a distinction - than the Crapitals (no sic.) - and it's not particularly close. Don't let the 7 games and 3 OT's fool you. They basically dominated possession and position throughout. And I think alot of that comes from Bylsma. And from Therien. Ol' Michel instilled in them a strong defensive responsibility/acumen, the competing in all three zones, the X's and O's of where to be without the puck. That kind of foundation takes time, hard work, and a whole mess of unpleasantness (a bunch of things the Boudreau-led Caps never achieved/endured). Bylsma brought a voice and face of someone the team didn't view as an unbearable asshole, which is important. He opened things up a bit, let the team skate forward without the puck, made the game a little more fun again. And he's a smart fucking guy. Everything I heard him say during the Caps series made me think, "this guy 1) actually knows what he's talking about, and 2) and can say it in an interesting way." Which is unbelievably rare for a hockey coach, let alone a human.
  • I've traditionally been a big Bourdreau fan, to the extent he's got that hard-to-hate-on portly shape and fun-loving, golly-gee-how'd-i-end-up-here demeanor. He isn't afraid to try to be funny or even silly, the players clearly love him, and he doesn't try to suffocate or hinder skill. Folky, gregarious, loyal; a guy that if you don't like the rigidity and absence of personality of pro sports, it's hard to root against. That said, he's probably the worst possible coach for that group of guys right now. He gives them way too much rope, allows them to play as loosey-goosey as any team the NHL has seen since NHL'ers stopped smoking Camel lights on game days. OV, Semin, Green are all given waaay too much automony: they overstay shifts, don't really have to be hyper vigilant away from the puck, and have not been sufficiently admonished into making safe plays at all times in all zones. It's a curse of having an excess of skill, but it's one Boudreau had to address if he wanted this team to be great rather than good. In the end, they weren't very good. Too loosey-goosey, assholes.
  • To a certain extent, there is a personnel problem, as the Pens have a beautiful and brilliant shutdown tandem of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi that combined make less money than the last top D pair of the Hartford Whalers (Zarley Zalapski and Glen Wesley?). The Caps should, in theory, be able to at least match that, or at least frustrate the hell out of Crosby and his pathetic sidekicks, with Morrisson and Poti, but different roles, different results (having Crosby and Malkin on different lines complicates things, of course) (Jeff Schultz proves useless yet again. Boy I wish we kept Johnny Oduya instead).
  • The better team won (empahsis on team, not collection of players). And honestly, I'm a lot happier with it that way. Now Detroit needs to defeat the most evil collection of hockey players of my lifetime, and I'll be able to live with the stupid Earth continuing to keep fucking spinning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

God does not play dice with the universe

But I’m afraid he/she sure does to a large extent with hockey. My favorite time of the year begins later today and below are some thoughts/predictions. I preface everything with the caveat that individual hockey games, and to a lesser extent individual series, are determined in no small part by the various manifestations of luck, ranging from injuries to bad calls to plain old the puck was bouncing all funny (there are some very complicated mathematical models out there which try to pinpoint just how much luck plays a role in hockey outcomes, and I won’t even link to them let alone try to engage in discussion; suffice it to say, it’s a crazy game). So with the understanding that any of these matchups could easily go the other way, this is how it should all play out.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadians (8) – the Bruins have basically rolled through the East from beginning to end of the season while the Canadians’ much ballyhooed centennial season had plenty if not everything go wrong – a multitude of injuries to key players, allegations of players partying too much, a star-player told to leave the team for a little while, a fired coach, and the reporting of a vague connection between certain player and local mafia elements. Nonetheless, this is as fierce a rivalry in the history of the sport and I expect it to be close. The Bruins, as dominant as they’ve been and as deep as they are, they’ve relied on a fair amount on smoke and mirrors as they’ve actually been outshot by their opponents at even-strength, though I guess Tim Thomas in net makes up for some of that. But they’re relatively healthy, and while Montreal still has some firepower up front – and Kovalev always raises his game in the playoffs – they’re missing Markov on the back end at least to start and just don’t have the dept up front or on D right now to handle the big, bad Bruins. The only bad part of the onset of the playoffs is that the regional telecasts will soon give way to Versus and NBC and we won't get to hear the maniacal laughing and blatant homering of Jack Edward much longer. Boston in 6.

Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Rangers (7) – my current team against my most recent team. The Capitals dominated the Rangers this season – certain stretches of play were particularly lopsided – but NY is a different team now with a different coach and some important personnel additions. Lundqvist is probably the biggest threat as he can steal a game or two by himself, but all that said, I’m not all that worried. If the Caps play as they’ve had for the most of the season, this one shouldn’t be all that close. Washington in 5 (or 6).

New Jersey Devils (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6) – Both teams have good even-strength shot differentials and are a bit mediocre on the PP (though NJ gets shots to the net on the PP but without converting those chances, as you’d probably expect given their limited skill). That said, Carolina has gone on an insane hot-streak towards the end of the year, one that I’m hesitant to attribute to the normal ups and downs of a season because it coincides with a coaching change and an important roster addition (Erik Cole). And plus, I really hate the Devils, the state of New Jersey, Devils’ fans, and the state of New Jersey’s fans. Carolina in 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5) – Each of these teams have the ability to go into a deep playoff run. I think Philadelphia is certainly deeper up front and on the back end and probably better overall, but the Penguins have played great under their new coach, and they have a pair of once-in-a-generation players in Malkin and Crosby on their team, and those are the dudes that usually have more to give in the playoffs. It’s probably a toss-up, but I’ll go with Philadelphia in 7.

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8) – San Jose has been dominant all year, though they struggle a bit late. I actually think the Ducks could give them a bit of a tough time here as they’re physical and deep if not as spectacular as they once were on D. But they’re essentially a one line team and Todd McLellan is too good a coach to not figure out how to stop them. San Jose in 5.

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) – Detroit is the best team in hockey by far and if they had received in decent goaltending over the season they would have ran away with the President’s trophy. The Blue Jackets are actually a good team and they’re going to be even better next year. But it would take heroic effort s on the part of Steve Mason in net and some of the key younger, playoff-inexperienced players (Nash, Russell, Voracek, Brassard), as well as a monumental goaltending collapse at the other end, to pull off the upset. Red Wings in 5.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6) – phenomenal effort to the get into the playoffs by a Blues team that suffered some very severe injuries to important players early on in the season and were certainly written off, by me at least, a few months ago. They’re playing great hockey and they’re for real I think, but it’ll take a game or two for young players like Berglund, Oshie, Perron, Boyes, and Polak to adjust to the speed and intensity of the second season, and that’ll be too much ground to get back against a Vancouver team that is absolutely built for the playoffs. Vancouver in 6.

Chicago Black Hawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5) – youth and skill vs. experience and grit would be the general and non-nuanced narrative of an American sports channel’s TV producer trying to create a plot line for the series rather than let the beauty and drama of the games themselves play out. I’ll go with my head over my heart. Calgary in 7.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

photo 11

This is my guy. We saw old Oswaldo's home in Quito, as well as the museum he set up that houses these beautiful pieces. Of course I couldn't really understand most of what was said on the "tour," and nobody *cough*Anita*cough* helped translate . Dude was much involved in progressive movements, much loved, and worked towards a better world through his interpretation and representation of physical and esthetic beauty (aka mostly pain and sorrow). Hasta la victoria siempre, manana hay misa para los sordos.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Living in the past pt 2: Aught eight, somebody still loves you

Following up on, at least in the loosest of senses, the most recent Year in Music in Review dictum is this more definitive, less jejune, if equally pointless summary of my favorite albums of the past year. A quadrennial PR farce masquerading as democracy, the continuation of two protracted and highly illegal (and immoral) military campaigns, and the continued degradation of my hockey game - though more accurately described as a continued decrease in the rate of my improvement (negative dx/dt) rather than a comment on the absolute quality of play itself - notwithstanding, these albums did their part to numb the pain of modern life:

10) The Gaslight Anthem / The '59 Sound - When did straight ahead guitar-driven rock without pretense, but with an implicit (and certainly not explicit) class consciousness become so rare, so appreciated (from under-appreciation) in the way that warm apple pie under cold vanilla ice cream after a long drive has become? These ne'er heard of 'fore boys deliver the goods honestly and incorruptibly, with a workmanlike devotion to craft and care that should make them the envy of every gaggle of lads in the garage or the van. Unlike another band sharing a home state - what I like to call the worst that achieved statehood and never tried to secede from the Union at one time - a band that'll remain nameless, but let's just say it rhymes with Fight-us And-stomp-on-us, a band that everything from their obscure Shakespearean titular appellation to the belabored vocal bellowing and blatant Connor Oberst ripping off to the cliched indie-rock pantomimes and rantings and ravings sans substance mind you, or evocation or meaning, ultimately betray any feeling, confident or otherwise, of authenticity... unlike this celebrated retinue of the damned, another "Joisey" band, The Gaslight Anthem, in the parlance of times no more than a handful of years outdated - though who can be sure what with pop culture idioms viz. legitimate and ironic usage changing hands so quickly these days - "keep it real."

9) High Places / 03/07-09/07 - A woman sings beautifully, if in an unassured way that makes it all the more compelling, over a dude fiddling with knobs and mixers and samplers and various electronic scenaria creating clicks and thuds. Very pretty yet still in a head nodding way.

8) Girl Talk / Feed the Animals - Probably the most controversial and polarizing selection here. If you're a fan of English-language popular music from the 1960's on, I'm not sure how you can honestly, or at least definitionally, not like this music. Apropos to the living in the past meme, those first few bars of recognizing an old song once loved e.g. the Temple of the Dog intro halfway into the first track is just cash money smiles and tingly feelings all around. The dude's song selection is varied over genre and era, including canonical hooks and subtler tracks, and his mash-up skills are, I think inarguably, beyond reproach. I imagine the people that don't like this stuff to be joyless automaton-like haters of the human spirit. Who wants to cop to that?

7) The Dodos / Visiter - Psych-folk-rock-type stuff from SF. I saw these guys by myself out on top of the East River (to all those people I called offering my free extra ticket, you suck), and they didn't play any of my favorite songs.

6) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds / Dig Lazarus, Dig!!! - This was the first Bad Seeds' album to come out since I became a big Nick Cave fan. I had long been vaguely aware of homeboy and knew he was kinda sweet, but it wasn't until being hungover beyond belief, I'm talking about inambulatory and face-down on the couch, blasting And No More Shall We Part, Cave's redemptive album re straightening out and finding God, that I understood the genius of Mr. Nick Cave and quickly thereafter discovered his catalog and anticipated eagerly this work. It doesn't disappoint. Cave's superb if not unmatched storytelling is on display, and The Seeds do their thing, including the guy who makes the weird sounds that sound like a cross between an electric guitar and a distorted fiddle, but which are certainly neither. This album confidently rocks, a touch no doubt owing to the recent Grinderman effort.

5) Azeda Booth / In Flesh Tones - This is undoubtedly the album here least likely to be listened to by the fellow Pfork-ites et al amongst us. And that's a shame because it's phenomenally brilliant, with reference points that don't quite do it justice but I'd begrudgingly have to include Radiohead as in terms of some squirk/sqeal-type beats, Porishead with the female lead over some weird shit musically speaking backing it (though I guess there are no women in the band), and maybe even the Cocteau Twins in terms of overall sexiness and loungy feel. Scary, enticing, soothing, pretty, intense, Albertan: they do it all with seemingly minimal effort and zero subterfuge. I fucked up the description of this record, more due to, I'd like to think, the complexity of the work and not the deficiency of my skills. Either way, it's a beauty.

4) M83 / Saturdays = Youth - Once upon a time long ago, a strapping young buck named Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair era, laid down a comely lass, My Bloody Valentine, making an honest woman of her and siring a beauty of a girl (with a body that was kind of unreal, especially for those times). Said girl went through her life unaffected and untamed and unloved, that is, until she met the bastard son of Spandau Ballet, who shared a torrid but only single night of drunken passion with the French dance-pop duo, Air. The honest wench and bastard scion found a love that would last all of times, full of elysian days and ravenous nights. They, thankfully, produced but one heir, M83's Saturdays = Youth. It is for each of us to enjoy.

3) Wolf Parade / At Mount Zoomer - What happened to this album? These guys were media darlings following their last, first?, studio effort, and through their brilliant and seemingly never-ending world tour. And through the numerous and various side-projects, what have you, though with none of them reaching the ability of the main deal. And then this album, liked and noted, but never really having taken off (where you at aforementioned Pfork?) like you may have expected given the pedigree and ultimate if not in your face quality. I don't know, I liked the hell out of this album. It may have lacked the bombast and natural aggressive hookiness of its predecessor, but there are some great songs, great grooves on this one; it's Wolf Parade as its species being: manic drumming, jangly guitars, Dan tossed, and Spencer melodizing to the end. One of my favorite Wolf Parade memories, aside from and way in excess of seeing them at Bowery or at that NYU show or wherever else we saw them (NYC's the same every night out in a way), or covering Father's Son at show from time to time, was the day we, VV sans Joel, had to "soundproof" the studio on N. 4th (N.B. our second unique studio in that space). This consisted of, mainly, mainlining Jim Beam to the dome, duct taping that foam spongy material to the walls, but mainly listening to Apologies to the Queen Mary through the PA, the umpteenth time at this point, and loud, and basically rocking out, with the position of the phallus not having been definitively determined, depsite the known expression. Mount Zoomer, its own material and not a rehash of the past for sure, takes me back to those moments, being young and drunk and having fun, and doing it well, that meant and still means and will mean something to me.

2) Why? / Alopecia - I've written about this album before and there's not much more to say. It's a masterpiece.

1) TV on the Radio / Dear Science - Same deal.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Living in the past pt. 1: "You can swallow all my priiiiiiide"

Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax -- YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I LIVE IN THE PAST!

One of my favorite things to do when downing pints with friends, or even after a couple glasses of grape juice with the mrs., is to think back to the old days, times spent and laughs shared, lives bent and carafes bared, to remember and relive the seasons, the reasons, for getting together once again. The cynical amongst us might whine and cry about not living in the now, not loving each day as anew, not creating a future even worth reminiscing about. A pox on them, I say.

I've been recently getting back into some of the music I loved from another time (Avail, Propaghandi, Operation Ivy). And yes I dig it for what it is/was, but I can't deny that part of the appeal is traveling back to a particular time and place, bringing back all the feelings and memories of a youth well spent. To wit, I love eating In'N'Out burgers, mostly because of the taste, but part of the joy now is the opportunity to, subconsciously I think (though not anymore), replay beautiful afternoons rolling down Van Nuys Blvd after school without a care in the world, or having been away from LA for a while and going straight from Burbank airport to get all animal styled on the way home. Nostalgia's an important part of real-time experience, past actions and emotions and context inform and affect the present, I say.

I recently met up with some very old and good friends that I rarely see these days. Long story short, we innocently finagled our way into the 3-story penthouse of the heirs to a European money printing operation. And got kicked out of the place for really no reason, basically the victims of intra-family strife, the manifestation of years of whitewashing problems with feigned indifference and real discontent, throwing piles of money as an extinguisher upon fundamental issues. After getting the hell out of that situation, my fellow cohorts expressed feelings ranging from outrage to disgust to embarrassment, what have you, but I just couldn't stop smiling. A contrarian 'til I die, I was so happy, knowing that years from now every time I'd see those guys we'd have something to talk about, laugh about, reminisce and rehash. To me, there was so much utility, fun at the time and allowing for even more fun in the future, in what happened. The future's a beautiful house built upon bricks of the past.


This is a little video I've made for the old and somewhat rarely played Via Violenta song, Cleo. I basically started the process to try and learn how to use the software, and totally not because I'm living in the past and painfully missing playing music in between hanging out with friends and cracking jokes while drinking Polish beers and smoking trees. Somewhere along the way, I realized not only was the studio recording not actually finished (I've got to assume that the guitars were merely scratch tracks to get the drums and bass down and that we would go back and re-record them, at least I really hope so), and not only was there no mixing done, but there's probably a reason this one was rarely played. Nevertheless, it still holds a nice place in my heart. And there was no way I was scrapping it and starting anew with a different song. The intro is a nice example of Freddie's antics-inducing laughter, complete with Hari's desperation and my hyena-on-nitrous-like cackling. Joel's a pro as usual (more likely eating a sandwich in between takes). I hope this brings back as good memories for some as it does for me. This goes out to all the bandmates, you too Inder, and the friends that came to the shows and shared drinks and laughs and everything else.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

photo 10, the return

What was once a clever self-motivational technique to take more pictures has become a lazy excuse to re-trot out one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books on one of my favorite topics. (I had no idea I had previously excerpted this very same passage in photo 4, but it's just so good, and judging by the paucity of comments, it's not going to kill anyone to have to read it again, and maybe the more relevant picture will help). Here's absolutely brilliant stuff from Malcom Lowry's much-referenced-by-me Under the Volcano:
And at the next moment, though not before there had passed between himself and the doctor a barely perceptible exchange of signals, a tiny symbolic mouthward flick of the wrist on the Consul's side as he glanced up at his bungalow, and upon Vigil's a slight flapping movement of the arms extended apparently in the act of stretching, which meant (in the obscure language known only to major adepts in the Great Brotherhood of Alcohol), "Come up and have a spot when you've finished," "I shouldn't, for if I do I shall be 'flying,' but on second thoughts perhaps I will" - it seemed he was back drinking from his bottle of tequila. And, the moment after, that he was drifting slowly and powerfully through the sunlight back toward the bungalow itself. Accompanied by Mr. Quincey's cat, who was following an insect of some sort along his path, the Consul floated in an amber glow. Beyond the house, where now the problems awaiting him seemed already on the point of energetic solution, the day before him stretched out like an illimitable rolling wonderful desert in which one was going, though in a delightful way, to be lost: lost, but not so completley he would be unable to find the few necessary water-holes, or the scattered tequila oases where witty legionnaires of damnation who couldn't understand a word he said, would waive him on, replenished, into that glorious Parian wilderness where man never went thirsty, and where now he was drawn on beautifully by the dissolving mirages past the skeletons like frozen wire and the wandering dreaming lions towards ineluctable personal disaster, always in a delightful way of course; the disaster might even be found at the end to contain a certain element of triumph.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Best Songs of Whatever Year Just Was

Perhaps it’s not revelatory to suggest that the medium can significantly affect the relationship with the underlying content, but it’s at least noteworthy that the mp3 has nearly extinguished my ability to recall or even recognize the names of the songs I like. It’s not so much as the mp3 itself – all compressed with the harrowing cries of audiophiles in the distance, “that high-hat just doesn’t have the clarity!” – as it is the absence of the CD booklet; whereas years before I would eagerly devour those little doggies, special attention paid primarily to the lyrics, secondarily to nuggets of publishing registrations and studio locations, as I listened along, I now find myself surfing aimlessly, or rather continuing to, as the iTunes rolls on, blissfully unaware of what’s being sung or even what these ditties are called (or where they were recorded for christ’s sake). As prelude to the forthcoming Best Albums of the Year post (hopefully sometime before the current year’s summer rolls around), and in celebration of the songs that won’t appear on that list (aka these albums didn’t make the cut), and as an assault against this recent anti-song trend of mine, I present the loyal reader with these, the best songs of last year (from the non-best albums). If a song you like is not on here, well, there’s no accounting for taste, and it may not be too late for you to acquire some. (Yes, it is.)

10. Young Hunting / Everything Shatters! – Start if off right with a potential homer pick as this is old friend and former Via Violenta-talking guy Hari Rex’s latest band, but I think I’ve always been nothing if not unflinchingly fair and objective. Actually, these guys would have been far higher on the list had they not butchered the brilliant and should-be-forceful Engine Driver while recording/mixing their EP. Nonetheless, Everything Shatters! is a nice little song that packs a punch before turning all slow and sad at the end. Homeboy’s voice sounds as good as it ever has here (which is kinda saying something) and these guys all know exactly what they’re doing. You can hear this one and a bunch of other cool songiola’s on their myspace.

9. Dungen / Maleras Finest/Det Tar Tid – Breaking the rules a bit by including this two-song sequence, but the first one is a short, instrumental piece and provides a nice intro for the smooth and relaxed Det Tar Tid, which translates to “It takes time.” Aww. What a return to form for these guys, though one other than the fuzzed-out guitar shredding, mind-melting psychedelic glory of songs like Panda and Ta Det Laungt, but rather some vaguely recognizable, piano-infused and mellowed-out but wholly awesome form nonetheless. These short, sweet songs reminds one of a distant and non-so-well known corner of Amsterdam, far, spiritually at least, from the depraved, llama-filled, filth-encrusted underbelly I historically have been unable to escape, tucked away in a quietly hidden, acid-fueled jazz club at the end of a small canal, barely an audible nod from the too-cool crowd of home-sick Moroccans and hipster Dutch pot heads, concurrently serious and breezily self-indulgent, where I imagine Dungen has a residency on every other Tuesday nights. Hyper drumming, as always, and beautiful piano and guitar create a somber and thoughtful mood without taking away any of the fun.

8. Born Ruffians / Hummingbird – I love these guys. Really good-time and well-crafted and performed guitar-driven pop songs. No more, no less, no fuss, no muss. What is there to say about being a teenager from outside Toronto, playing gushingly-sung solos, singing shriekingly-yelped harmonies with your best friends in a different beer-soaked club every night, having to beat away the girls with your guitar case? Clearly, I made some poor life choices. Enjoy it, lads. Fly away li’l hummingbird!

7. Deerhoof / Snoopy Waves – If you’re into beautiful and silly guitar play that usually rocks out over and in between incomprehensible Japanese-accented, if not Japanese outright, squawks and squeals, in what I imagine are complicated discussions involving cartoon characters marrying flowers and living in mushroom-shaped houses, then this is the band for you. Actually, this inclusion is a bit of a sign of respect to their very brilliant previous album, Friend Opportunity, but the new one’s good too and this song particularly kicks a jam.

6. Perspex Icon / Wire – This was one was a tough call; it was originally going to be the song Water Curses from Animal Collective’s EP of the same name. But I figure since their 2009 Merriweather Post Pavillion will, rightfully so, assume the positions of 1-10 on the Album List here next year, and its songs will also sweep the Song List as well, I’d spread the wealth around and include this treat from old school post-punkers Wire. You can almost hear the wisdom and experience wrought from 30 years of living/doing it, buttressed against the enthusiasm of still loving/doing it. A great track.

5. Bodies of Water / Under the Pines – After I graduated from college, I took the first of my so-far-two sabbaticals (what’s the over/under on my lifetime number there? Let’s see some bets), that particular maiden voyage involving plans of a cavernous rehabilitation from the rigors of past and future life and love, romantic thoughts of attempting to write and learning to exist, all essentially devolved in short time into sleeping away the days and drinking away the nights, learning to play the guitar in between, and generally living off my parents’ largesse. The self-imposed solitary confinement was broken only rarely, usually in furtherance of visiting the aforementioned Hari en route to either the Troubador or another venue and ensuing raid-inhaling bacchanalia. Once it was to a party at the Hollywood hills house of some rock-star (that’s right, I was pretty fucking cool once) where I found myself sitting alone talking to a gorgeous blonde (she rolled up on me) who had just moved to the area as a model (duh) with her husband (gasp!) and they were looking for cool people to hang out with and play board games (beautiful girls with porcelain skin can say stuff like that and it’s cool, if I tried it, I would be laughed off the reservation). After eventually picking my heart up off the floor, and several drinks later, Hari and I sneaked down to the basement where the instruments were kept and almost immediately kicked into, what I still believe, was a rousing version of the White Stripes’ Fell in Love with a Girl with Hari punishing the drums and with me playing guitar outside of my bedroom for the first time and what I think may have been the only song I knew how to play. As we stood in puddles of water (or bodies of water if you will, foreshadowing) that had leaked in from somewhere, joking about the impending electrocution we would die of, some other dude eventually wandered in and found a guitar and joined in, except the fact that neither him nor I really knew how to play at all (in fact, I would argue based mostly on a terrible memory and whatever pride I have left that I was better at that point) prevented us from making anything other than jarbled, mashed-up nonsense mostly (though I recall a Smashing Pumpkins cover he attempted that I butchered). Long story short (too late!), it turned out that he was the husband of the model that was jonesing for some board game action. It also turned out that years later they formed a band that started getting some good press. I never really gave it much thought as the painful memories and dreams of what-could-have-been were too much to overcome, as well as their reputation as some kind of Christian Mamas and the Papas with full-on 4-part harmonies, etc. However, they roughed up their sound for the second album, and I must admit, nostalgia or not, it’s pretty damn good. Under the Pines starts with a cool drum shuffle thing going on and then one of the tightest little guitar lines I heard all year jumps in. A little bit haunting, a little bit rocking, there’s some good stuff going on here. The girl’s got a pretty voice, and the dude made himself a player. Congrats and good luck (call me).

4. Fucked Up / Black Albino Bones – Old school hardcore with a message, widely attempted but rarely done well. These guys do it well. Pummeling pace, monster riffage, sing-along screams, and just enough musicianship, it’s fun music to listen to, to get pumped to, and there are probably even some interesting lyrics that make you think, but I can’t understand most of what the dude’s yelling about. The album was close to my Best of, but a couple clunkers and they missed the cut. Great line from the band’s wiki about one of the members: “Zucker is a transient who was chosen as the original frontman for Fucked Up due to his confrontational manner. Zucker was replaced as frontman after missing several crucial shows while in jail for punching a Toronto police officer who had stolen a ham sandwich from him.” Our greatest strengths are faults as well.

3. Portishead / Silence – I’m not as bananas for this entire album as some of the chumps (chimps?) out there. But that fairly creepy, fairly inaudible, French/Flemish/Gibberish, I think, spoken-word intro, and after that, tribal, paranoid (android) drumming, bass and harsh guitar (guit-box?) kick in and onto the background. Entrance and trance, séance and dance. Sick. I can’t take homegirl’s voice for an entire album, but for a song or two, this one especially, refusing to stop repeating, “did you know what I lost / do you know what I wanted?” If this song was all you knew about the people making the music, how long before you called the insane asylum for/on them?

2. M83 – Kim and Jessie/Skin of the Night – I just discovered this album recently, but hot damn, this sounds NOTHING like what I remember of them (him?) from years ago. And good god, it is fantastic! Again, I couldn’t choose between these two consecutive songs because they are just so damn good and go so well together. They both kind of sound like My Bloody Valentine plus Tears for Fears plus Spandau Ballet, which is a serious complement around these parts. And I’m guessing that 1) I’m pretty spot on in that assessment, and 2) there’s some self-awareness as I now look and see the album’s cover has various figures from 80’s movies on it. Frankly, this should really be on the Album List instead because the whole thing is so good, but that would leave a big hole here, and I’d prefer to solve this problem now and deal with the fallout later.

1. Fleet Foxes / Tiger Mountain Peasant Song – A somewhat surprising choice in my mind because I resisted this band for much of the year, and because this song is essentially just a lone voice over an acoustic guitar. Perhaps an appreciative nod to them in light of my recent attempts at learning how to finger-pick (I still suck), but this song, and that voice, is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and stirs quite the feelings of grandeur and vulnerability, beauty and pain that our wonderful natural world, and nature itself, creates and is. And it inspired something as awesome as this cover:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a Country, or Chomsky on Gaza

Chomsky weighs in with some wide-ranging thoughts. I've cherry-picked some useful excerpts below, but the whole thing is worth a read for those wishing to understand the events of the world we live in. For those content to assume the fictional but useful narrative of Western propaganda from the media/government-symbiosis, just ignore. Or focus on some other speech given by Clinton II today. Here are some of Noam's thoughts:
On Saturday December 27, the latest US-Israeli attack on helpless Palestinians was launched. The attack had been meticulously planned, for over 6 months according to the Israeli press. The planning had two components: military and propaganda. It was based on the lessons of Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, which was considered to be poorly planned and badly advertised. We may, therefore, be fairly confident that most of what has been done and said was pre-planned and intended.
That surely includes the timing of the assault: shortly before noon, when children were returning from school and crowds were milling in the streets of densely populated Gaza City. It took only a few minutes to kill over 225 people and wound 700, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenseless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee.

In his retrospective "Parsing Gains of Gaza War," New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner cited this achievement as one of the most significant of the gains. Israel calculated that it would be advantageous to appear to "go crazy," causing vastly disproportionate terror, a doctrine that traces back to the 1950s. "The Palestinians in Gaza got the message on the first day," Bronner wrote, "when Israeli warplanes struck numerous targets simultaneously in the middle of a Saturday morning. Some 200 were killed instantly, shocking Hamas and indeed all of Gaza." The tactic of "going crazy" appears to have been successful, Bronner concluded: there are "limited indications that the people of Gaza felt such pain from this war that they will seek to rein in Hamas," the elected government. That is another long-standing doctrine of state terror. I don't, incidentally, recall the Times retrospective "Parsing Gains of Chechnya War," though the gains were great.

The meticulous planning also presumably included the termination of the assault, carefully timed to be just before the inauguration, so as to minimize the (remote) threat that Obama might have to say some words critical of these vicious US-supported crimes.
Two weeks after the Sabbath opening of the assault, with much of Gaza already pounded to rubble and the death toll approaching 1000, the UN Agency UNRWA, on which most Gazans depend for survival, announced that the Israeli military refused to allow aid shipments to Gaza, saying that the crossings were closed for the Sabbath. To honor the holy day, Palestinians at the edge of survival must be denied food and medicine, while hundreds can be slaughtered by US jet bombers and helicopters.
The rigorous observance of the Sabbath in this dual fashion attracted little if any notice. That makes sense. In the annals of US-Israeli criminality, such cruelty and cynicism scarcely merit more than a footnote. They are too familiar. To cite one relevant parallel, in June 1982 the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon opened with the bombing of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, later to become famous as the site of terrible massacres supervised by the IDF (Israeli "Defense" Forces). The bombing hit the local hospital -- the Gaza hospital -- and killed over 200 people, according to the eyewitness account of an American Middle East academic specialist. The massacre was the opening act in an invasion that slaughtered some 15-20,000 people and destroyed much of southern Lebanon and Beirut, proceeding with crucial US military and diplomatic support.
Like others familiar with the region, Middle East specialist Fawwaz Gerges observes that "What Israeli officials and their American allies do not appreciate is that Hamas is not merely an armed militia but a social movement with a large popular base that is deeply entrenched in society." Hence when they carry out their plans to destroy Hamas's "social wing," they are aiming to destroy Palestinian society.
Hamas is regularly described as "Iranian-backed Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel." One will be hard put to find something like "democratically elected Hamas, which has long been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus" -- blocked for over 30 years by the US and Israel, which flatly and explicitly reject the right of Palestinians to self-determination. All true, but not a useful contribution to the Party Line, hence dispensable.
As Maoz also reminds his Israeli readers, overflights with sonic booms to terrorize Lebanese are the least of Israeli crimes in Lebanon, even apart from its five invasions since 1978: "On July 28, 1988 Israeli Special Forces abducted Sheikh Obeid, and on May 21, 1994 Israel abducted Mustafa Dirani, who was responsible for capturing the Israeli pilot Ron Arad [when he was bombing Lebanon in 1986]. Israel held these and other 20 Lebanese who were captured under undisclosed circumstances in prison for prolonged periods without trial. They were held as human `bargaining chips.' Apparently, abduction of Israelis for the purpose of prisoners' exchange is morally reprehensible, and militarily punishable when it is the Hezbollah who does the abducting, but not if Israel is doing the very same thing," and on a far grander scale and over many years.
The new crimes that the US and Israel have been committing in Gaza in the past weeks do not fit easily into any standard category -- except for the category of familiarity; I've just given several examples, and will return to others. Literally, the crimes fall under the official US government definition of "terrorism," but that designation does not capture their enormity. They cannot be called "aggression," because they are being conducted in occupied territory, as the US tacitly concedes. In their comprehensive scholarly history of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, Lords of the Land, Idit Zertal and Akiva Eldar point out that after Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in August 2005, the ruined territory was not released "for even a single day from Israel's military grip or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day ... Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future. The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might" -- exercised with extreme savagery, thanks to firm US support and participation.
Also a minor technicality is the fact that on December 31, while terrorized Gazans were desperately seeking shelter from the ruthless assault, Washington hired a German merchant ship to transport from Greece to Israel a huge shipment, 3000 tons, of unidentified "ammunition." The new shipment "follows the hiring of a commercial ship to carry a much larger consignment of ordnance in December from the United States to Israel ahead of air strikes in the Gaza Strip," Reuters reported. All of this is separate from the more than $21 billion in U.S. military aid provided by the Bush administration to Israel, almost all grants. "Israel's intervention in the Gaza Strip has been fueled largely by U.S. supplied weapons paid for with U.S. tax dollars," said a briefing by the New America Foundation, which monitors the arms trade. The new shipment was hampered by the decision of the Greek government to bar the use of any port in Greece "for the supplying of the Israeli army."
There are good reasons why the voting record is consistently unreported and dispatched deep into the memory hole by the media and conformist intellectuals. It would not be wise to reveal to the public what the record implies about their elected representatives. In the present case it would plainly be unhelpful to let the public know that US-Israeli rejectionism, barring the peaceful settlement long advocated by the world, reaches such an extreme as to deny Palestinians even the abstract right to self-determination.
One of the heroic volunteers in Gaza, Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, described the scene of horror as an "All out war against the civilian population of Gaza." He estimated that half the casualties are women and children. The men are almost all civilians as well, by civilized standards. Gilbert reports that he had scarcely seen a military casualty among the 100s of bodies. The IDF concurs. Hamas "made a point of fighting at a distance -- or not at all," Ethan Bronner reports while "parsing the gains" of the US-Israeli assault. So Hamas's manpower remains intact, and it was mostly civilians who suffered pain: a positive outcome, according to widely-held doctrine.

Returning from a visit to the Arab world, Fawwaz Gerges strongly affirmed what others on the scene have reported. The effect of the US-Israeli offensive in Gaza has been to infuriate the populations and to arouse bitter hatred of the aggressors and their collaborators. "Suffice it to say that the so-called moderate Arab states [that is, those that take their orders from Washington] are on the defensive, and that the resistance front led by Iran and Syria is the main beneficiary. Once again, Israel and the Bush administration have handed the Iranian leadership a sweet victory." Furthermore, "Hamas will likely emerge as a more powerful political force than before and will likely top Fatah, the ruling apparatus of President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority," Rice's favorites.
Israel abandoned Gaza in September 2005. Rational Israeli hardliners, like Ariel Sharon, the patron saint of the settlers movement, understood that it was senseless to subsidize a few thousand illegal Israeli settlers in the ruins of Gaza, protected by the IDF while they used much of the land and scarce resources. It made more sense to turn Gaza into the world's largest prison and to transfer settlers to the West Bank, much more valuable territory, where Israel is quite explicit about its intentions, in word and more importantly in deed. One goal is to annex the arable land, water supplies, and pleasant suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that lie within the separation wall, irrelevantly declared illegal by the World Court. That includes a vastly expanded Jerusalem, in violation of Security Council orders that go back 40 years, also irrelevant. Israel has also been taking over the Jordan Valley, about one-third of the West Bank. What remains is therefore imprisoned, and, furthermore, broken into fragments by salients of Jewish settlement that trisect the territory: one to the east of Greater Jerusalem through the town of Ma'aleh Adumim, developed through the Clinton years to split the West Bank; and two to the north, through the towns of Ariel and Kedumim. What remains to Palestinians is segregated by hundreds of mostly arbitrary checkpoints.
The checkpoints have no relation to security of Israel, and if some are intended to safeguard settlers, they are flatly illegal, as the World Court ruled. In reality, their major goal is harass the Palestinian population and to fortify what Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper calls the "matrix of control," designed to make life unbearable for the "two-legged beasts" who will be like "drugged roaches scurrying around in a bottle" if they seek to remain in their homes and land. All of that is fair enough, because they are "like grasshoppers compared to us" so that their heads can be "smashed against the boulders and walls." The terminology is from the highest Israeli political and military leaders, in this case the revered "princes." And the attitudes shape policies.
Adding a few details, the "facility" was the UN compound in Gaza City, which contained the UNRWA warehouse. The shelling destroyed "hundreds of tons of emergency food and medicines set for distribution today to shelters, hospitals and feeding centres," according to UNRWA director John Ging. Military strikes at the same time destroyed two floors of the al-Quds hospital, setting it ablaze, and also a second warehouse run by the Palestinian Red Crescent society. The hospital in the densely-populated Tal-Hawa neighbourhood was destroyed by Israeli tanks "after hundreds of frightened Gazans had taken shelter inside as Israeli ground forces pushed into the neighbourhood," AP reported.
Israel has a straightforward means to defend itself: put an end to its criminal actions in occupied territories, and accept the long-standing international consensus on a two-state settlement that has been blocked by the US and Israel for over 30 years, since the US first vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a political settlement in these terms in 1976. I will not once again run through the inglorious record, but it is important to be aware that US-Israeli rejectionism today is even more blatant than in the past. The Arab League has gone even beyond the consensus, calling for full normalization of relations with Israel. Hamas has repeatedly called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus. Iran and Hezbollah have made it clear that they will abide by any agreement that Palestinians accept. That leaves the US-Israel in splendid isolation, not only in words.
After rejecting the June 2008 ceasefire it had formally accepted, Israel maintained its siege. We may recall that a siege is an act of war. In fact, Israel has always insisted on an even stronger principle: hampering access to the outside world, even well short of a siege, is an act of war, justifying massive violence in response. Interference with Israel's passage through the Straits of Tiran was part of the pretext for Israel's invasion of Egypt (with France and England) in 1956, and for its launching of the June 1967 war. The siege of Gaza is total, not partial, apart from occasional willingness of the occupiers to relax it slightly. And it is vastly more harmful to Gazans than closing the Straits of Tiran was to Israel. Supporters of Israeli doctrines and actions should therefore have no problem justifying rocket attacks on Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

Of course, again we run into the nullifying principle: This is us, that is them.
Despite the Israeli siege, rocketing sharply reduced. The ceasefire broke down on November 4 with an Israeli raid into Gaza, leading to the death of 6 Palestinians, and a retaliatory barrage of rockets (with no injuries). The pretext for the raid was that Israel had detected a tunnel in Gaza that might have been intended for use to capture another Israeli soldier. The pretext is transparently absurd, as a number of commentators have noted. If such a tunnel existed, and reached the border, Israel could easily have barred it right there. But as usual, the ludicrous Israeli pretext was deemed credible.
The civil war that left Hamas in control of Gaza is commonly described as a Hamas military coup, demonstrating again their evil nature. The real world is a little different. The civil war was incited by the US and Israel, in a crude attempt at a military coup to overturn the free elections that brought Hamas to power. That has been public knowledge at least since April 2008, when David Rose published in Vanity Fair a detailed and documented account of how Bush, Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams "backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever." The account was recently corroborated once again in the Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 12, 2009) by Norman Olsen, who served for 26 years in the Foreign Service, including four years working in the Gaza Strip and four years at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, and then moved on to become associate coordinator for counterterrorism at the Department of State. Olson and his son detail the State Department shenanigans intended to ensure that their candidate, Abbas, would win in the January 2006 elections -- in which case it would have been hailed as a triumph of democracy. After the election-fixing failed, they turned to punishment of the Palestinians and arming of a militia run by Fatah strong-man Muhammad Dahlan, but "Dahlan's thugs moved too soon" and a Hamas pre-emptive strike undermined the coup attempt, leading to far harsher US-Israeli measures to punish the disobedient people of Gaza. The Party Line is more acceptable.
In a front-page think-piece on the latest Gaza invasion, NYT correspondent Steven Lee Meyers writes that "In some ways, the Gaza attacks were reminiscent of the gamble Israel took, and largely lost, in Lebanon in 1982 [when] it invaded to eliminate the threat of Yasir Arafat's forces." Correct, but not in the sense he has in mind. In 1982, as in 2008, it was necessary to eliminate the threat of political settlement.

The hope of Israeli propagandists has been that Western intellectuals and media would buy the tale that Israel reacted to rockets raining on the Galilee, "intolerable acts of terror." And they have not been disappointed.

It is not that Israel does not want peace: everyone wants peace, even Hitler. The question is: on what terms? From its origins, the Zionist movement has understood that to achieve its goals, the best strategy would be to delay political settlement, meanwhile slowly building facts on the ground. Even the occasional agreements, as in 1947, were recognized by the leadership to be temporary steps towards further expansion. The 1982 Lebanon war was a dramatic example of the desperate fear of diplomacy. It was followed by Israeli support for Hamas so as to undermine the secular PLO and its irritating peace initiatives. Another case that should be familiar is Israeli provocations before the 1967 war designed to elicit a Syrian response that could be used as a pretext for violence and takeover of more land -- at least 80% of the incidents, according to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
An Amnesty International chronology reports that the June 2008 ceasefire had "brought enormous improvements in the quality of life in Sderot and other Israeli villages near Gaza, where before the ceasefire residents lived in fear of the next Palestinian rocket strike. However, nearby in the Gaza Strip the Israeli blockade remains in place and the population has so far seen few dividends from the ceasefire." But the gains in security for Israel towns near Gaza were evidently outweighed by the felt need to deter diplomatic moves that might impede West Bank expansion, and to crush any remaining resistance within Palestine.
Today, Israel could have security, normalization of relations, and integration into the region. But it very clearly prefers illegal expansion, conflict, and repeated exercise of violence, actions that are not only criminal, murderous and destructive but are also eroding its own long-term security. US military and Middle East specialist Andrew Cordesman writes that while Israel military force can surely crush defenseless Gaza, "neither Israel nor the US can gain from a war that produces [a bitter] reaction from one of the wisest and most moderate voices in the Arab world, Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who said on January 6 that `The Bush administration has left [Obama] a disgusting legacy and a reckless position towards the massacres and bloodshed of innocents in Gaza...Enough is enough, today we are all Palestinians and we seek martyrdom for God and for Palestine, following those who died in Gaza'."

One of the wisest voices in Israel, Uri Avnery, writes that after an Israeli military victory, "What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet. In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel."

There is good reason to believe that he is right. Israel is deliberately turning itself into perhaps the most hated country in the world, and is also losing the allegiance of the population of the West, including younger American Jews, who are unlikely to tolerate its persistent shocking crimes for long. Decades ago, I wrote that those who call themselves "supporters of Israel" are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration and probable ultimate destruction. Regrettably, that judgment looks more and more plausible.

Meanwhile we are quietly observing a rare event in history, what the late Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling called "politicide," the murder of a nation -- at our hands.

Enjoy your day of glorious self-congratulatory platitudes and good-feelings, fellow Americans. Know that they are accompanied by the death of a nation and the torture of a people. You are complicit in it all. Clap, clap.

Friday, January 9, 2009

An unbearable sadness of being

Sigh. I haven't posted in a while (even by my standards) as the end of the year brought too much work followed by the too much eating and drinking of the holiday season. But mostly I haven't posted because there's nothing that deserves discussion more than Israel's attack on Gaza, and frankly I didn't have the fortitude or courage (stomach or balls) to deal with the issues and facts head-on. I still don't. But in an attempt at securing just a sliver of piece of mind, I'll throw out some thoughts and useful links.

There is no aspect of Israel's actions that are rooted in or even related to self-defense. Any ideas otherwise are demonstrably false. Israel, not Palestine, broke the ceasefire on November 4, 2008 when it killed 6 Palestinians. That ceasefire, however, was not particularly sustainable as by its terms it continued the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Resources are not allowed to flow in, people are not allowed to flow out. Gaza is essentially a prison. I occasionally listen to uninformed blowhards on the radio ask, "well, what should a country do if it's neighboring country started firing rockets at them?" (and this is on NPR, I shudder to think what's being said elsewhere). Gaza is not a sovereign county, it is not recognized by Israel, it is an Occupied Territory. Israel should, and the US should make Israel (which it has the power to do of course), end the blockade, agree to the 1976 UN Security Council resolution for a two-state settlement, vetoed by the US and supported by the rest of the world (the vote was 150-3 in the General Assembly with only the US, Israel, and El Salvador(!) opposing it), and stop its attacks on and attempts to destabilize Hamas, the democratically elected governing party of Palestine. Bombing the fuck out of 1.5 million people trapped in a box before launching a ground invasion is a far different, far less acceptable course of action.

There's much more to say, but I just don't have the stregth to say it. These people do it better at these links:
To all the supporters of Israel who read this and won't want to talk to me again, I remind you of Chomsky's clarification that "supporters of Israel" should more aptly be called "supporters of the moral degradation and eventual destruction of Israel."