Sunday, March 27, 2016

Forget the Presidency For a Minute, This May Be A Historic Congress

I read two articles on 'The Hill' and 'Politico' last night and it got me thinking about some crazy shit. The first article was all about Paul Ryan setting up the narrative for the GOP leadership to ignore the popular vote and not nominate D0nald Trṳmp. The second article was just a breaking piece about Bernie Sanders demolishing Hillary in Alaska, Washington and Hawaii on Saturday.

The latter was the 'Politico' article, so of course it blew off Bernie's wins and diminished their value in light of Hillary's delegate lead . . . typical Politico.

Thinking about both of these things made me realize that the next Congress (the 114th to be exact) may actually be selecting the next President of the United States. In fact, it may be a bunch of rookies in the legislature, doing something unprecedented in American history as their first order of Congressional business!!!

Consider the following timeline:

July 18th, 2016 'The Republican National Convention'

We have a 'brokered' convention, wherein no GOP candidate secures the required 1237 committed delegates going in to the convention. According to their own rules (which the leadership can change at their pleasure by the way) they conduct a vote right there at the convention wherein each delegate votes according to their pledge. If a majority is not gained, there's another vote wherein each delegate votes however they want.

If it gets to this point, literally anyone could become the GOP nominee. It's as if the whole primary process didn't happen and the entire candidate nomination is decided amongst the fights, protests, blockades and maneuvers of the party elite. In that mayhem and panic over the prospect of losing to Hillary, a name like Paul Ryan starts to sound pretty damn good to the party power brokers.

By the end of the convention, when the dust has settled, Paul Ryan is the GOP nominee in the general election for the office of the President.

There is great wailing and gnashing of teeth among angry white America!

D0nald Trṳmp declares himself "the only real winner" and immediately announces his independent bid for the White House.

July 25th, 2016 'The Democratic National Convention'

Bernie charges in to the Democratic convention on a wave of small donor cash and cult-like popularity - even though he knows the deal is sealed. Despite losing the popular vote to Sanders by a noteworthy margin, Hillary Clinton easily secures the Democratic Party nomination on the backs of the totally unaccountable 'super delegates' and settles in for a cruise-control ride through the general election against a totally disintegrated Republican base. But . . .

Taking a look at the massive piles of cash still in his campaign coffers, and realizing that electoral votes may be easier to come by in a multi-way general election than a two-way primary, Bernie also opts to continue his candidacy as a third . . . no,  fourth party candidate.

November 9th, 2016 (2am PST) 'The Dawn After Election Day'

In a stunning turn of events that causes Reince Priebus, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich to break out into a WWE melee during Fox News' live election coverage, and which also causes Wolf Blitzer to self-flagellate while laughing maniacally on CNN, the following electoral vote count is revealed:

D0nald Trṳmp: 96

Hillary Clinton: 137

Paul Ryan: 144

Bernie Sanders: 150

Ladies and gentlemen, we DO NOT have a winner!

The 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires a simple majority of the electoral college to assume the Presidency. There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs. Divided evenly, that's 269 x 2, which means if nobody gets to 270 we do not have a majority and we do not have a President . . .

Well, shit. What now?

And that, among other reasons, is why this Congressional election is so important.

January 3rd, 2017 'The Swearing in of the 114th Congress'

The U.S. Constitution mandates that each new Congress convene at noon on January 3rd. Historically, the first thing a new Congress does on January 4th after a Presidential election is tally the electoral votes and declare a winner. This is usually a relatively simple process. The winner is known, there is nothing left to contest, so the vote is certified, the gavel drops and that's it. But what now?

January 4th, 2017 'The Brand New Congress Picks the Next President of the United States'

Back to the 12th Amendment. If no majority of electoral votes is won in the general election, the House of Representatives selects the President from among the top three vote winners, based on a quorum of the state delegations - not by member. That's a mouthful...

This means that while there 435 Representatives in the House, each of them will not get their own vote. Instead, all the Representatives from California will get one vote, all the Representatives from New Jersey will get one vote, same with all the other states . . . all the Representatives get a say in their delegation, but in the end it's one vote per state.

That means that the delegation from Wyoming, consisting of one person (Cynthia Lummis - [R], bless her heart!), who represents a total population of less than Raleigh-Durham, NC, will have the same power in selecting the President as does the entire state of California - home to almost 20% of the USA, whose GDP would be 10th in the world (between India and Russia) if it were a country.


Don't ask me what happens if this process results in a 25/25 tie because I don't know. The only time the House has picked a President since the passage of the 12th Amendment was in 1824 and at that time there were 27 delegations, making a tie impossible. U.S territories and D.C. are 'at-large' members of the house and have no vote outside of committee so they don't factor in.

So, yeah . . . um

While it's easy to be completely drawn into the spectacle of the Presidential race, we should all remain very tightly engaged with the Congressional contests in our given states and districts. It's not at all crazy to suggest that the newly minted 114th Congress may be assuming the full responsibility of electing the next President. For fuck sake!

If that happens, I think we can all agree that regardless of our individual affiliations or ideological leanings, the popular will should prevail in a democratic system. As such, we should all be prepared to vote for candidates whom we would trust to honor not only our preferred agenda, but the core principles of popular sovereignty.

This would be a great time to throw some bums out and install a legislature who'll pull it's head out of it's ass and get to work. It may be really, really important to get this batch right.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why the Lethal Smog in the Capital of the World's Biggest Big Government is an Argument for Big Government

I've seen a few headlines lately, such as this one, talking about the dangerously poor air quality in Beijing of late. They're onto their second "red alert" (whatever that means) in the past few weeks and there isn't any reason to think things are going to improve without a nice refreshing hurricane coming by and flinging that mess all over Korea.

Me posing for pictures at the Great Wall of China
last year. You should be able to see the mountain
in the background above the rampart, but all you
see is smog.

I had occasion to visit Beijing, Guangzhou and Harbin last year and let me tell you, if it wasn't a "red alert" back then, I'd hate to imagine what it's like right now.

We've even got these smart asses up in Canada bottling air from the Rockies and selling it to Chinese consumers for about $30 a pop, just like Mel Brooks inhaling 'Perri-Air' in "Spaceballs". Here's a clip if you don't know what I'm talking about.
Looking across the valley to the opposite section of wall. The
picture suggests a cool, foggy, early morning but it's not.
It's actually close to noon and quite warm. It's not fog, it's
 particulate matter.

It begs the question, how come the Chinese have allowed this to happen? After all, when I was a kid I remember seeing images of Beijing with thousands of people on bicycles obeying the direction of uniformed traffic cops as the whole city pedaled to work and back every day. Now Beijing has 93 million passenger cars; even more per-capita than gas-guzzling Houston, and the effects would be as plain as the nose on your face - if your nose were visible in Beijing, and not chronically inflamed.

                                                This is Beijing       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .              This isn't                Photo

The answer to the above question is, like most things, multifaceted and difficult to summarize, but I'm going to do it anyway. Here goes:

Government is too small in China 

"What did he say?

Is he talking about the Peoples Republic of China? The Communist superpower with constant government surveillance of everything? The same China that bans Google and Facebook , and which makes "spreading attack [Communist] Party and national leaders.” punishable by imprisonment? The China whose government is massive, all-powerful and totally lacking any legal constraint?"

Yes, that's the China I'm talking about. The problem in China is small government. Allow me to explain...

The proper role of government in society is that of a regulator; or a referee if you will.

Each of us, as private citizens, is involved in an intricate social game that is equal parts cooperation and competition. We all derive benefit from institutions of civic value and therefore all have a logical motive to cooperate with one another to maintain that value. At the same time we are all competing for limited resources. 

It's like a massive game of dodgeball. In some instances we are best served by herding together with others. In other instances the smartest move is to dart off on our own. We form loose alliances and strategize collectively, but at the end of the day it's every man for himself. Of course, all of this has to be done while observing the rules of the game; rules that must be enforced. That's what the referees are for. They don't take sides. They don't compete. They simply enforce the rules.

What you have in China, is a country that started seeing the writing on the wall (no pun intended) about 35 years ago and has since been shifting gradually toward it's current market economy. Unlike the overwhelmingly privatized market system we're used to in the west however, China did things their way - the collectivist way. In China, the government has decided that being the referee is lame. In China the government plays to win.

According to the Economist, there were an estimated 75,000+ state owned enterprises in China as of 2014 with the twelve biggest companies in the nation at least partially state owned according to Fortune.

"And what a spectacular mess of huge government that is!!! How in the world can you suggest that more government is the solution to any problem?"

Because when big government ceases to perform the role of the referee and becomes a competing player on the field, not only does that player take on a tremendous advantage over other competitors, but the essential regulatory role that the government is meant to perform is simply not performed. The result is no enforcement of the rules.

Where is the Chinese equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency? Where are the emissions standards? Where are the efficiency benchmarks? Where are the laws to protect the Chinese people from the toxic smog of unregulated industry and reckless growth?

Yes, the Chinese government is big when it comes to social regulation and paving the path for state owned enterprises, but when it comes to performing the actual regulatory role of government with respect to combatting filthy clouds of particulate matter, government in China is all but non-existent.

The problem is small government...

The lesson we should take away from China's example, is that the size of the government does not tell us anything about how much government is actually doing. Many government employees staffing many government offices does not necessarily mean that the rules are tough and that they're strictly enforced. This is particularly true in the 'revolving door' American regulatory climate where industry actors and government regulators swap high-ranking staff every few years, taking turns enforcing toothless laws drawn up by industry lobbyists. 

The solution to stupid government is smart government -  not less government. If we can have a simpler regulatory landscape whose outcome is higher civic value, great, so be it. But if tougher laws and stricter enforcement are required, let's not allow the size of stupid government to fool us into thinking we're already doing too much.

The massively small Chinese government proves that the math isn't that simple.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Your Grandpa Wasn't a Saint: What Are You Gonna Do About It?

As a transplanted Southerner I have mildly conflicted feelings about the whole row over the Confederate battle flag. I have no affection for the thing, as to me it's the flag waved by gangs of ignorant squares who threw tomatoes at black children as they tried to enter public schools in the early 1960s. That said, I do have a good deal of affection for many perfectly kind Southerners whom (according to my social media feeds) feel very differently about that flag and what the entire history of the South means. Many of them it seems, do not like confronting the idea that maybe their sweet ol' Me-maw might have lobbed a tomato or two in the direction of a black toddler, or maybe that their kindly and genteel grand-pappy might've lynched a teenage boy and set his corpse on fire.

I'm reminded of Ben Affleck's embarrassing discovery of his slave owning ancestry and Chelsea Handler's realization that her grandpa was a Nazi. Both struggled to find ways to either revise history in their own mind, or shamefully obscure it from the light of day.


What Affleck, Handler and a good number of my Southern friends are suffering from, is a symptom of 'identity politics', whereby we pretend that inherent flaws in the human psyche are more attributable to certain demographic strains. When we realize that we are descended from a particularly bad strain, we recoil in disgust and try to reconcile our genetic pollution with the enlightened identity we'd rather project.

Nobody wants to be the oppressor. Nobody wants guilt.

Affleck killed the NPR story, Handler tried to find evidence that her granddad was an unwilling patsy, just trying to survive Naziism. And so many of my Southern friends want to completely re-engineer the story of a population that was economically beholden to the fundamentally immoral practice of slavery. A practice that painted white southerners into an economic corner, which forced immorality and self-preservation to occupy the same space. A space wherein defense of self and defense of evil were functionally identical. 

They want to re-engineer the story so that they can preserve Pa-Pa's decency, thereby preserving their own decency. They value tradition and respect, and they see those values as prescriptive for the problems of today. It's a big part of the way they see the world and their place in it. So yeah, they're not too happy about all this flag lowering and 'Dukes of Hazzard' nonsense, because it makes them guilty. It makes them the 'bad strain'.

Well here's the thing people: There is no 'bad strain'. 

Affleck needn't feel ashamed of his slaver ancestry, Handler needn't struggle to redefine the words in her grandfather's military files and Southerners needn't suggest that the rest of America has got it all wrong with respect to that flag. None of that is necessary, and in fact it sets us up to miss the lesson.

Chelsea's granddad wasn't suffering from some genetic condition specific to Germans, thus rationalizing her effort to distance herself from it, he was suffering from mere humanity. Humans are fucked up creatures, friends. We have massive brains that reach all sorts of weird-ass conclusions and that is not a tendency specific to one demographic or another. 

Kind people have the capacity to be mean.

Decent people have the capacity to be obscene.

Those that welcome, also shun.

Those that accept, also reject.

The same heart that can burst with love one moment, can spew hate the next.

This is the human condition we're talking about. Not the white human condition or the black human condition or the male condition or the female condition, it's just humanity. It's our big brains finding detours around moral obligations just because we're confident that we're ultimately pursuing righteousness. 

This is what allowed Huli tribesmen in Papua New Guinea to decapitate a young mother for 'sorcery' when her child contracted tuberculosis.

This is what allowed a young German man to drop Zyklon-B pellets into the gas chamber at Dachau - killing hundreds of emaciated Jews in the process.

This is what allowed Japanese soldiers to sexually mutilate prisoners of war before executing them and leaving their bodies strewn along the trails of Guadalcanal.

This is what justifies slavery, torture, murder and every form of social injustice. 

When our ideological confidence is unwavering and our conviction is deep, we have the potential to become monsters. Its an ugly truth. But if we characterize these basic flaws in the human condition as unique to a particular population, we fail to acknowledge that each and every one of us is susceptible to become the next slaver or Nazi. None of us is immune. We all need to be conscious of how this little pathological chunk of humanity manifests so that we can recognize it in ourselves and halt it's progression. Thats all we can do.

So chill out Ben Affleck and Chelsea Handler. Your ancestors were human beings who did exactly what human beings do, just like mine and everyone else's. And chill out Southerners, your ancestors were normal people too. They were complicit in an evil institution and allowed pride, hatred and selfishness to interfere with the simple logic - which is typical of humanity. It's got nothing to do with you personally so what do you care? And knock it off social justice warriors who appropriate racial distinctions to further your agenda, you are not your civil rights heritage. They were right, you are wrong.

Let's not make any attempts to vilify or canonize past populations as there is no utility in it. Throw away the scorecards and abandon the 'identity politics' narratives because they will not serve any function in the end. 

Narrowing the Definition of Terrorism: Encapsulating The Patriot Act

We need to have some clarity on the definition of 'terrorism'. Not just for the sake of keeping the discourse cohesive, but because this is how our justice system dies.

My preferred definition for terrorism is: 'Violence targeting civilians for the purpose of generating fear'. This is the one I learned from Dr Kleinberg in Poli Sci 334. I'm sure there are others but I think this one wraps it up.

The idea is that civilians are not of any strategic value. It does not make sense to target them for the purpose of reducing your enemy's capability. However, if you attack civilians you create fear amongst that population. Fear can then translate into political pressure on the government to address the agenda of the attackers. Moving their agenda to the front burner is the terrorists goal.

The race of the attacker is irrelevant, the religion of the attacker is irrelevant, the ideology of the attacker, the number of victims, the methodology and weapons used . . . all irrelevant. If the target was random, non-strategic civilians and the motive was to 'terrify' other civilians into affecting the policy process, we have terrorism. Otherwise, not terrorism.

The net effect of adopting this definition is that a lot of events from the past 10-15 years or so that have been characterized as 'terrorism' cease to qualify. Attacks on military personnel or facilities are immediately disqualified. Attacks on US government installations overseas are immediately disqualified. Attacks on individuals or institutions seen as instrumental in some conflict are immediately disqualified . . . yep, this is where I'm going to start losing people.

"Why should we let them off the hook?" some might say. "Why shouldn't we pile as many charges on those assholes as we possibly can?" Here's why...

With the introduction of legislation like The Patriot Act, we have created an off-ramp for our justice system. The otherwise inviolable Contitutional pillars of American justice such as presumed innocence, right to a fair trial, burden of proof, etc. are all overlooked when we feel like charging someone with 'terrorism'.

"But we only make these exceptions in terrorism cases," some apologist might say. "We needn't worry that the precedent set by the Patriot Act will bleed over into other realms of criminal justice."

Unless of course, we broaden the definition of terrorism to include ecoterror, narcoterror, info-terror, cyberterror, terror thought, etc. If we then rationalize that 'hate crimes' are a form of terror we can rope in 'hate speech' and just about everything else until our entire criminal justice system has taken the Patriot Act off-ramp and we're no longer Americans.

The Patriot Act was bad enough with narrowest of scope. Tossing the word 'terrorism' around with casual abandon gently widens that scope until it's all inclusive. Let's not facilitate that with sloppy language.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What White Folks Like Me Don't Understand About Black Folks Resisting Arrest

Late last month, an Arizona State University Professor named Ersula Ore, a 33 year old black woman, was forcefully arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer as a result of this exchange. The officer began questioning Professor Ore after he allegedly saw her jaywalking. He claims she resisted arrest. 

Late last week, a black man named Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by police officers in Staten Island, New York. He was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. The arresting officers claim he resisted arrest.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you might browse the comment sections of any number of web articles, blogs or Facebook posts about either of these incidents and you will hear many, many, many white people saying the same thing.

"Well why didn't he/she just cooperate with the officer?"

"Even if the officer is wrong, you only make things worse for yourself if you resist!"

"Why ask questions and demand explanations? Just follow the officer's orders!"

You see . . . we don't get it.

In our world, the cops are the good guys. They come sort out the neighbors when the music is too loud and give anti-drug talks at middle schools. The most unpleasant interaction most of us have with them is when we get pulled over for speeding. In that situation, we all know that sappy sweet friendliness is the best play. It's the only approach that has any hope of avoiding a ticket, which is the worst outcome the majority of us ever experience with police.

That said, if by some odd chance any of us ever had a police officer ask us to produce identification, or, God forbid, place our hands behind our back, we would do so immediately with the full confidence that this whole misunderstanding would soon be rectified. Heck, in a few minutes we'll probably all get a good laugh out of how the well intentioned cop got the wrong idea! No hard feelings Officer, have a great night!

That's what makes stories like the aforementioned so frustrating to white people. Sure we feel bad for Mr. Garner and his family, and sure we feel bad for Professor Ore, but gosh darn it, why didn't they just cooperate?

You see, what white people like me don't understand, is that black people - young black males in particular - have a fundamentally different perspective on interaction with the police. For young black men, police are not a problem solving resource to be called upon for help, they are something to fear. No matter how far back you go in U.S. history, be it 'Reconstruction era' South or modern day New York City, you will find stories of black men and boys suffering assault, battery and even death at the hands of law enforcement. 

As a white dude, the prospect of police interaction represents little more than an inconvenience in the worst case: maybe traffic school if I'm really unlucky. But if I were black, I'd have a whole lifetime of  frightening anecdotes to inform my fear. Not to mention the stories of all my friends and male family members reinforcing the idea that contact with cops, legitimately founded or otherwise, leads to physical pain, incarceration and death for people who look like me.

Cooperation as the best play is not automatic when you consider the prospect of being brutally arrested, interrogated (including being sodomized with a broomstick) and falsely convicted for hard time or death. If these are the prospects than run through your mind when you see the flashing lights, you will fearfully seek to avoid that contact. You will not want to answer questions, you will not want to identify yourself and you will not put your hands behind your back and wait to be rendered defenseless. 

You will not!

Instead, you might want the officers to explain themselves. You might stall and plead your case. You might become visibly anxious and feel threatened when 'backup' arrives and positions himself behind you. These may be your last moments as a free person after all. Should you go quietly and have faith in due process, or should you try to escape? I know what I'd do.

I'm not saying that resisting arrest is the best play. I'm saying it's a rational, historically validated act of desperation, motivated by well-founded fear. One need not be guilty to feel that fear. 

Young and black is enough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Top 5 Ways to Tell If a Bull Elephant Seal Is Flirting With You

There's no question that the dating scene on the rocky Farallon Island shores is totally crazy, right?
We're all looking to make that perfect match, but what's a sophisticated beach cow like you to do when that smokin' hot bull wobbling in from the briny deep is shy? What if he's trying a little TOO hard to play it cool and you're just not sure if he's into you?
We hear you loud and clear sister! That's why we've assembled this list of sure fire clues that reveal exactly what's going on in that simple, yet mysterious boy brain of his (as if, right?)

Flirt #1. Aggressively Inflating

You know those ridiculous probosces on the front of their faces that they all seem so obsessed with? Well if a guy starts inflating his around you to make it seem . . . um, larger? (giggle giggle) It's safe to say he's trying to catch your eye. If he's cute, throw a grunt in his direction, he may be 'the one'!

Flirt #2. Threatening Your Current Pup

Guys are really interested in propagation of their DNA and many are totally insecure when it comes to the fact that you bothered to have a life before he showed up. Nothing challenges your capacity to commit resources to his young, or threatens his oafish ego, more than your current progeny. If he attempts to gnarl your pup, you can bet your next paycheck he's trying to trigger your hormonal shift into estrus. In other words - he's interested!

Flirt #3. Flopping His Mass On Top of You

So many cows totally miss this one! It's a crowded beach. He's a busy bull with a schedule, so if he casually undulates his two tons of flesh on top of you as he makes his way from A to B it's probably nothing, right? . . . WRONG! We asked our anonymous panel of cute eligible bulls to reveal their favorite secret flirts and they all mentioned this technique.

Anonymous Bull #1: "If I like a cow, I usually try to crush her a little, just to get her attention."

Anonymous Bull #2: "Oh definitely. I'm secretly hoping when I smother her in blubbery flesh, that she'll snort in protest, yet roll over in a way that exposes her vent. Then at least I know I'm not wasting my time."

Be on the lookout for that secret flirt. I'll bet you're already glad you started reading this valuable shit.

Flirt #4. Bellowing Loudly

Did you hear that guttural howl? Do you smell partially digested fish in a foul, steamy cloud of bull elephant seal breath? If so, put down this magazine and smile because somebody likes you! When a guy bellows loudly in your direction, there's a good chance he's trying to strike up a conversation. It's inarticulate and crude, but as long as that bungling idiot is validating you, who cares?

Flirt #5. Slashing the Throat and Face of Another Bull With His Incisors

This one's a dead giveaway girls. If you notice two bulls rearing up and hacking the shit out of each other until they both resemble ground meat, you are definitely being flirted with. Congratulations, because that gruesome, bloody display is all about you! You can basically put it in cruise control and wait for the victor to emerge. But be nice to the loser, because he may be hotter next year if he doesn't die of infection or great white shark attack. It's a cows prerogative to change her mind! 

So there you go ladies! The top five mysterious signals of the coy bull elephant seal, successfully decoded. Now get out there and change yourself to accommodate them. Because you're worth it!!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Punk Pilgrimage

The first time I became aware of Mike Watt was June the 6th, 1992. I was seventeen years old.

Actually that's not true. The first time I actually beheld Mike Watt's image was sometime in the mid '80s while watching an episode of MTV's "The Basement Tapes". A memory of the video for "This Ain't No Picnic" by the seminal L.A. punk band 'The Minutemen' exists in some tiny cluster of neurons in my skull, but that's it. My pre-pubescent brain stored the memory of seeing that video, but I think I was too young to have appreciated the music, so I can't really count that.

On that mild June evening in 1992 I found myself in the front of the pit at the Greek Amphitheater in Berkeley, California. I was a budding teenage bass player and I had made my way to the Greek that night to see Primus, whose frontman, Les Claypool, was what I believed to be the bearer of the bass standard. This was at the height of Primus' popularity as they had two decently rotated singles off their album "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" at that time and I was excited to see them live.

The two supporting acts were the band Cracker, who had a pretty big single with "Stoned", and another group called fIREHOSE that I'd never heard of. They were first.

Outdoor venues are cool at night. They're not too sweaty if you're standing down in the pit, and the lighting looks cool, but the opening acts don't benefit from that. They have to slug away at their songs in broad daylight, without the dramatic assistance of fog machines and fancy stage rigging. That was how fIREHOSE took the stage. The sun was in their eyes.

That was when I truly became aware of Mike Watt; though in that moment I wasn't completely convinced I was seeing a band take the stage at all.

The guys who walked out into that sunlight didn't look like rock stars. They looked more like groundskeepers and janitors. Watt was a thick dude wearing a flannel shirt and some tattered, ill-fitting jeans. He was also fully bearded (mind you this was 1992, before the hipsters starting doing it) and he walked out to his amp with his index finger stuck in a half-empty bottle of Budweiser. All he was missing was a janitors key ring hanging off a belt loop. I honestly thought he was a roadie.

They tuned, got their levels and started playing very gently. I still wasn't sure if this was a sound check or an actual act at this point because it just wasn't happening the way I'd seen other concerts start. The bearded guy with the bass walked up to the mic as the guitar and drums just flowed textural sounds to the still sparse crowd.

"Badges?" the bass man said, "We don't need no badges. We don't need no stinking badges"

I knew this line from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", so I still half suspected this was a roadie having a laugh, then he changed tack.

"But what we do need . . . is a REVOLUTION!!!"

Then he howled into his microphone like a werewolf and the band broke into the song "Revolution Pt.2", which was a legitimate punk rip. They caught my attention. I spent the next hour pretty much mesmerized by fIREHOSE and specifically Mike Watt. He was just what I needed to see.

To understand why, you'd have to have some familiarity with Primus and Les Claypool. Primus' music put the bass way out front as a lead instrument, and Les played it with a wacky unconventional style that had a hypnotic effect on my impressionable young mind. I didn't really know anything about music or the role of the bass, but I was sure Les was doing it the way it needed to be done. Lots of triplets and thumb work and fast 'bippity bippity' type stuff . . . The trickier the better.

I don't mean to take anything away from Les or Primus. I still have a soft spot for all of that stuff, but from the perspective of a youngster learning the fundamental value of bass it was exactly the wrong thing to fixate on. It made me aspire to play a mid-rangey lead instrument and re-invent the wheel. That was the wrong idea.

Watt was not demonstrating superior skeletal muscle control by manipulating his bass with deft precision. It wasn't about doing tricks or executing the hand acrobatics that send teenage boys like me running off to the woodshed with bass in hand. What he did was impossible to copy. He was cooperating with his bass. He was working it like a tool. There was a proletarian honesty to his style and you got the feeling he was expressing himself completely with it, while somehow never asking it to be something other than what it was.

Les Claypool dazzled by tapping crazy themes all over his fretless six-string, but Watt made the case for clubby plumbers fingers, pounding the throaty low end out of a no-frills, standard P-bass. It was what I needed to see.

I saw fIREHOSE again a few months later. This time it was across the bay at Slim's. Watt was playing a Gibson Firebird instead of the P, but aside from that it was the same deal. It was honest work and a great show. That was the last time I saw him.

In 1997 Watt released a solo piece called "Contemplating the Engine Room" which he described as a 'punk rock opera'. I describe it as fucking brilliant.

With "Engine Room" Mike chronicles his own life in the emerging L.A. punk scene and draws parallels to his father's life working in the belly of a Navy ship. I don't want to over-describe it, but it brought tears to my eyes for different reasons.

In 1992 I was a careless teenager. In 1997 I had a wife, a mortgage and a baby. My band from my teenage days had long since disintegrated. My musical footprint did not extend beyond my CD player, my one bass and the small amp next to my bed. Hearing "Engine Room" just floored me. The honesty I saw that day at the Greek was there again. It was simple themes and pure textures layered upon each other and composed in a way that made a lot out of very little - like a painting done only in primary colors which is no less complete than one rendered in a million hues.

It was a story of a father, a son, a band and an engine room. It was about struggle and being hidden away in the basement of a larger thing and never getting to see the sun. It was about friendship and exuberance and drunkenness and loss.

It was what is beautiful about music. It communicated a story through a feeling that doesn't have a name. Not purely happy nor purely sad nor purely anything except for honest. It made me feel proud of Watt for having accomplished such a noble feat and it made me wish I had the wherewithal to do the same.

I've been keeping up with Watt via his web page and his Facebook page as attentively as my weird life schedule permits and I noticed he was touring Europe in support of his latest opera "Hyphenated-Man". Since I live in Europe now it seemed that I might have a chance to catch up and see him for the first time in 22 years. There were no dates in Holland, but I don't mind a pilgrimage.

Once I had a first world internet connection I bought "Hyphenated-Man" and took to it straight away. It is the real thing. This is what 'punk' means. It's not about turning the distortion up to 11 and donning eyeliner while singing pop themes, it's about honesty. Sometimes the guitar is clean, sometimes it's dirty. Sometimes the melody climbs angrily through a minor key and sometimes it basks without shame in major key happiness, it doesn't matter. It's all legit. Most of the songs are under 2 minutes, which is enough time for a verse and chorus, or a primary and secondary theme and that's it. Next song.

Throughout it we hear the signature accessible elegance of guitar, bass and drums rightly composed. Watt's words are just frames that give shape to the texture of his voice. The listener is free to make sense of them, or not . . . as it should be. This is punk after all. I like it. Once again I am made happy by Watt. I was 17 the first time, I'm 39 now.

I've been either busy or outside of Europe for most of the tour but that all ends tomorrow. I'm hopping a flight from Amsterdam to London, then taking a train down to Brighton where Watt and his 'Missingmen' are playing in a club in the basement of the train station.

This is what it's all about.