Calm Down about the Syrian Airbase Attack

I admit to having mixed feelings about President Trump’s decision to bomb the Syrian airbase in response to Assad’s chemical attack. It is certainly worth a moment’s pause to wonder if we are now Team America World Police. Time will tell, and I make no prediction, but in itself, sending cruise missiles into Syria did not necessarily represent any change in the President’s stated non-interventionist policy. Let’s see what happens before we get all hysterical and start jumping off the Trump Train. I love Laura Ingraham, but she was freaked out about it. I guess my man Michael Savage was too. Okay, let’s think this through together.

First of all, President Trump did not just out-of-the-blue decide that chemical weapons are a different kind of bad. Chemical weapons have a special place historically in the arsenal of hideous things humanity has dreamed up to torture itself with, and to our credit, we at least have tried to stifle the impulse to use them. Look up the 1899 Hague Convention, and the Declaration which sought to ban the use of projectiles to release “asphyxiating or deleterious gases,” which unfortunately did not hold up during WWI, so we tried again with the “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare,” signed  in Geneva in 1925, again not completely successful so,  still trying, we have the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, to which most of the world today belongs (including, by the way, Syria since 2013). Notwithstanding the spotty effectiveness of these agreements, the point is that chemical weaponry has a longstanding reputation as something that is especially awful, and deserving of at least some attempt to stop nations from using it.

By the way, what’s wrong with us, as people, that we would think up something like using poison gas to kill each other in the first place? Conventional weapons are not nasty enough? I remember a time in science class back in…probably the 6th grade, when the teacher was discussing the atomic bomb, and how, ideally, it would not hit the earth, but explode higher up in order to, his words: “kill more people.” So me and Tom Murphy, sitting in the back of the room, started to whisper to each other “kill more people, kill more people” in a lobotomized, deranged manner. We thought it was hilarious (6th grade), the idea that someone would seriously want to figure out the optimal height for an atom bomb to go off for maximum death toll, an idea that is itself couched in the absurdity of someone thinking up such a weapon to begin with. Or a weapon like sarin gas. Hey boss, I’ve been messing around with this stuff in the lab, and I think if we were to put it in bombs we could not only blow shit up, but also spread a deadly neurological poison that would kill more people, kill more people.

That’s crazy; we’re crazy. So, if we come to our senses from time to time and agree that, as a civilized world, if we must fight, we will at least use some restraint and not use chemical weapons, that’s good. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed the line on April 4 when one or more of his warplanes dropped sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria, and innocent people died horrible deaths as a result. Of those facts, there is little doubt, and if anybody anywhere was going to do anything meaningful about it, it was going to be the United States or absolutely nobody.

The Left will, of course, either not understand or pretend not to understand the rationale for bombing the Syrian airbase from which the attack was launched, and will find a way to slime President Trump over it. A case in point, Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes, “…what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.” Which is like saying I don’t understand why he ate that banana when he just said yesterday he was not interested in spaghetti. (Choose your own examples.)

So, it is possible that, unprompted by any additional instance of chemical weapons use, President Trump will send troops into Damascus tomorrow and I’ll feel like the idiot here. But so far so good. And I do understand that there is no shortage of horrible things going on in the world today—Laura mentioned Africa—but the choice is not a binary, Respond to Everything, or Respond to Nothing. We need to start somewhere. We need to pick our spots, and this was a good one.

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ObamaCare: Our Choices

So President Trump attempted to make good on his campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, and pundits were tripping all over each other to tell us how miserably he had failed when the plan he championed did not even come up for a vote. What does this mean for his agenda? they wondered.

It means Trump may have placed too much faith in the House politicians who voted repeatedly to repeal all or part of Obamacare, safe in the knowledge, apparently, that they could not over-ride a Presidential veto and therefore did not need to worry about passing an actual alternative. Voting as political theater, in other words. It means Ryan and the House Republicans are inept, but that is not exactly a news flash at this point. It means they need to get their act together.

Trump’s speech after the three ring repeal/replace fiasco should have been, “Ok, I gave it a shot. All of you who think Obamacare is so wonderful, make it work. If you haven’t signed up for it, do that immediately and get all your friends to sign up too.” That would have been very Un-Donald, but it would have been a genius move. Cheerleading, as he did, for the system to collapse was not a good look.

Maybe I’m an outlier in the Trump Supporter population, but Obamacare repeal was never an issue for me personally. I’ve written about this before. Obamacare is a hairball that should never have been passed, but it was passed, and it has been in effect for seven years now, meaning we are well past the point where free-market reforms will fix it. That ship has sailed, my conservative brothers and sisters, because despite it’s flaws, too many people are enrolled—even my daughter has benefited from it. I can’t imagine saying to her yes, Obamacare was there for you, but here’s an even better idea: we’ll take it away! Yay!

So I was relieved when Ryan’s plan went down the tubes without a vote, because it would have replaced a cluster owned by the Democrats, with one owned by the Republicans. Now what? I will tell you, but you won’t like it. When Obamacare collapses to the point where people will be grateful for a real solution, it should be replaced with either (a) single-payer, such as Medicare for everyone or (b) socialized medicine. That’s it. No, allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines is not going to fix anything. Not health savings accounts either. Just stop. Our choices will be (a) or (b).

Why I Like M83

“Why do you like M83?” Mrs. Beifong asked me the other day, implication being that she is not that crazy about the group. Not an unreasonable query, given that she knows I’m basically a cranky old folkie guitar player who looks askance at anyone who uses a capo and who has said that “looping” does not belong in live performances. Regarding the latter, it’s getting to where I hear it everywhere. Or think I do. I was watching a jazz funk band play the other night at a small club, and the drummer was very good. So I was watching him closely, but what I was hearing did not match what I was seeing him do. So during a break I complimented him on his playing, then asked him if he was doing some looping. He looked at me and went “Looping? Wha…?” Never mind. I didn’t press it (but he was looping).

I first caught on to M83 by listening to studio recordings (where, as I figure it, electronic shenanigans are quite all right) and the music was fantastic. Lush instrumentation sprinkled with interesting electronic glips, highly processed vocals, engaging melodies, and lyrics that range from tranquil to emotional to dramatic to hopeful. But never angry. The driving force is a guy named Anthony Gonzalez, a very talented musician from France, and some of their songs are in French. Tres bien!

I had two of their albums (Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up We’re Dreaming) but had never seen them perform live. In fact, I had the chance to see them once in Seattle, but figured they would not be very good in person. I realized the depth of my stupidity on that one when I fell ill last winter and, since I was spending some time in bed, I flipped on YouTube and watched the M83 concert at the 2016 Sasquatch festival in Washington State. Huh. They were great!

There were 5 of them: a sax player, an energetic guitar player (who looks to be about 13), the drummer was a rhythmic maniac, a woman on keyboards with a lovely voice, and there was Anthony front and center, standing next to a steampunk box with patch cords going every which way, and a keyboard. (Yeah, I wondered about the patch cords too…) All around them was this awesome light show, and the Sasquatch crowd was on their feet and loving it. I had the flu and I loved it.  And as the sharp falsetto doots of “Midnight City” rang out, the Sasquatchians took it up a notch, jumping off the ground, waving, and cheering. They were responding purely to the power of the music. Well, see for yourself—here’s the opening lyric:

Waiting in the car.
Waiting for a ride.
At night the city grows.
Look at the horizon glow.

Nice. The words are softly poetic, calming you might say, yet the crowd was nearly hysterical with joy. A friend who was at the concert has told Mrs. Beifong that it was “magical.” That is the power of music. I would have loved to have been there, and I must have watched that video, beginning to end, six times by now. What an amazing show and yes, it included beaucoup looping and other effects. But M83 clearly demonstrated that live performance + electronic processing can actually work.

So I now plan to resign as president of the I Hate Live Looping club unless we can amend the bylaws with an M83 exemption. And such an exemption would make sense: the text would stipulate that in the case of a band which is by its nature electronic…and so on… notwithstanding whatever…(still working on it).

I will not pass up the next chance I get to see them live but, alas, I worry that I may have missed my only shot. Anthony is, as I said, very talented, and I’ve read that he is going to be the composer and musical director for a Cirque de Soleil production. Will he stop touring as M83? Well, I suppose I could go to see the acrobats…as long as there are no capos involved! (smiley face)

“Republicans Aren’t Activists.”

Written in response to  “Prominent Leftists Now Outright Condone Violence To Oppose Trump,” a piece written by Daniel Payne in The Federalist.


Mrs. Beifong (a Bernie supporter) had an interesting take on all the angry protests following the Presidential election. I asked of she could imagine Republicans demonstrating in the streets had Hillary been elected. She said “Republicans aren’t activists.”

Good point. Republicans tend to respect the rule of law and the political process. It would be absurd, to us, to demonstrate against the result of a democratic election. What you do is you vote, and if your person doesn’t win, you consider political options, maybe get involved in your local party, or just move on with your life. No windows need to get broken, no faces need to be punched, no cops need to get hit with bricks.

The Democrats, on the other hand, particularly those who like to think of themselves as “progressive” without appreciating the irony of how retrograde they actually are, love those stories about the demonstrations and riots of the 1960s. But they missed the part where the counter-culture back in the day actually had a point. Those who protested against the Vietnam war and Jim Crow laws could claim a noble purpose. But what about these rioters today? What is their message—Hell No Electoral College? We Shall Overcome the Temporary Travel Ban?

It’s like they have fallen in love with the theatrics of protest, but have no appreciation for the need to have a rationale for their antics. I’m starting to wonder if we have stopped teaching American Government in school now, so we have this whole generation that thinks if they don’t get their way, they should just start screaming at people. And by stealing for themselves the mantle of the protesters of yore, they claim Moral High Ground, and with it the license to rampage and disrupt. Oh, not just license, but obligation. They are only looking out for the little guy, after all.

So they grandstand, they posture, they clap for each other, and just generally act like spoiled children. Which they literally are, in many cases. We have to take them seriously not because they are making any sense, but because they are destructive and, as Daniel Payne suggests, violent. Global Warming! Sanctuary Cities! Abortion! These are not discussion points now; more like battle cries. If people don’t calm down, this might not end well.

See, I might not be an activist, but there’s something to be said for just quietly plugging along within the system. I voted for McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, and my candidate lost both times. I did not need counseling. Nor did I take to the streets with a big sign on a stick. When I cast my vote in 2016, it was an expression of nonviolent resistance, you could say. Hey, finally won one! Sometimes you need a little patience.

Goodbye, Maggie Roche

There used to be this bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, back in the late 1970’s called the Inn Square Men’s Bar. A funky little nothing of a place but it had a nice vibe about it, and they had live music there sometimes. I lived in nearby Somerville, and when I saw that The Roaches were going to appear on that little stage in Inman Square, in that funky bar, I couldn’t believe it. Sisters Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy Roche were amazing, a very unique musical trio—to me they were stars!

I couldn’t afford to see many name groups back then, but I was able to get in to see The Roches (there might not even have been a cover). I had a seat right in front of the stage and they were very engaging, singing with their trademark harmonies, and humor. The eldest sister, Maggie, gave their sound a unique quality because she didn’t try to sing high like a pop star girl singer—she added the low notes. Listen to “Hammond Song,” for example, written by Maggie, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a very interesting composition, by the way, like snippets of a conversation between the sisters and a female friend or family member who is about to go off with her boyfriend; an intervention:

If you go down to Hammond you’ll never come back
In my opinion you’re on the wrong track
We’ll always love you but that’s not the point

Time moves on and I moved away, but I’ve always liked The Roches and even bought my mom one of their albums. Every Christmas I play their We Three Kings CD, a compilation of Christmas songs (including a couple of originals) that is the best Christmas album ever made, and it’s not even close.

So I was saddened to learn that Maggie Roche has passed away recently, at the age of 65. I feel as though something has been taken away from this world that should have been left where it was. That a place that I love is stating to fall away, little by little at first, but becoming less recognizable with each loss. It’s only January, and already Maggie is gone. I have a bad feeling about how the rest this year is going to go, but I take comfort in her words from “Hammond Song”:

They say we meet again on down the line
Where is on down the line, how far away?
Tell me I’m okay

Well, how do you not at least smile at that? Thanks Maggie. You were a treasure.

Disaster Averted

Now that those in power are losing their power, and with it their ability to tell us what we are to think, we can see just how bad it had gotten with them, and it keeps getting worse. We were much farther off track than I knew. The bizarre rants and protests of the left following the election, and their hypocritical attempts to thwart the election results, were one thing. But now they want to  boycott LL Bean because a member of the founding family donated to the Trump campaign, and they want to obstruct the inauguration, and just generally they want somehow to make Donald Trump not the President. They can’t stand it and it’s hilarious. On top of all this is the prevasive post-election lunacy of the mainstream press, not to mention the last-minute antics of Obama himself (see Israel, Giving Shaft To).

So as we witness the final performance of a man who is without a doubt the Most Divisive President in Recent American History, as we painfully watch him ungraciously linger in the limelight, the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats, the hook approaching from stage left, it’s unsettling that we nearly elected his understudy. Wow. Disaster averted. Thank you, Donald.

My Friend Terry

Terry and I became friends in high school. Two goofballs…I don’t know, Tucks, how am I doing so far? Start with high school? Do you agree with “goofballs”? Like when you and I were walking home from Max’s place that winter night, marveling at the freshly fallen snow in front of Harvey High? Not a footprint in it until you and I waded in and spelled a certain four-letter obscenity in letters about 25 feet high with our tracks. Next day, so we heard, one of the teachers looked upon our literary craftsmanship in horror, and sent several of her students outside to run across it.

Indianapolis? What? How’d you end up in that place? Never mind—long story I’m sure. Listen, I’ve got to tell your friends there this tale. Remember when we used to walk the railroad tracks in Painesville, you balancing on one rail and me on the other? We’d try to make each other fall—not by pushing, no, but by psyching each other out. So I’m walking along on my rail, carefully watching my steps, and I noticed that you were not next to me on the other side anymore. I was concentrating on where I was going, but finally I looked up and there on the rail right in front of me was a small fire that you has set with some trash and small twigs. I still laugh at that sight—an actual fire! You made an actual fire in front of me on my rail! Ok man, you win that one!

So, who do the people in Indiana think you were, I wonder? Do they know why I call you “Tucks”? (A misread by your mom on some letter or postcard I addressed to you. “What is Tucks?” asks kindly Mrs. Coyne.) Do they know about that time we bought our first hash but didn’t know how to smoke it? So we were in your parent’s basement trying to pulverize it in a table vise, based on our genius idea to grind it up and mix it with tobacco and smoke it like that. I got sick to my stomach but you were just fine, drinking prune juice in the living room and asking me if I wanted some. I did not. Do they know about Step’s elderberry wine and your sage counsel that I’d know when I was drunk by feeling my chin? Or that apartment we rented on Mentor Avenue with Kathy, or Kathi, or whatever who I think you had a thing for. Or how about the time I got you that job in that LA garment factory, where we first learned that a lot of Mexicans apparently think it’s cool to name their children “Jesus”? Yes, two hippies from Ohio totally surprised by that.

I almost forgot about this one…during school assemblies when everyone was supposed to go to the gym, we used to hide in the theater auditorium until the hallways cleared. Then we would have the entire room to ourselves, just the two of us. So I’d sit in the audience and you’d do some kind of improv, and I’d politely applaud. Then we’d switch places, me on the stage, you in the seats. Let that sink in for a second, Tucks—who, beside the two of us, would do that? Anyone? (I rest my case about the two goofballs.)

Anyway, there it is. I don’t know if I’ve shared anything useful here. Most people know you better than I do, I’m sure. To me you’re still this freak—oh, I just remembered that time you and Twanger came to visit me and Peggy in Athens. She stayed home, we went out, there may have been drinking involved, the gravel you guys poured into the gas tank of that Triumph…never mind, I’m rambling. You got me in trouble with Peggy though.

I last saw you in 1980, before my move to the West Coast. People may wonder why we didn’t stay in touch, but I think you get the deal. I mean, for what reason? In any event, I am a little shaken by your passing. You were a thoughtful person, creative, very funny, and a good friend. And FYI, if you meet someone named “Jesus” up there, it might be, you know, The Real Jesus (unless he’s pushing a rack of suits, smiley face).

Peter Terrance Nicholas Coyne, December 6, 1949 – August 15, 2016. RIP